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Sisters bond over fresh business

Bella Fresca in the former Fridgies Fruit Bowl building Masterton. PHOTOS/SUPPLIED

ERIN KAVANAGH-HALL

Opening their own business has helped Casey Duckett-Mount and Courtney Stewart forge the close sisterly bond they missed in their teenage years.

Sisters Casey Duckett-Mount, left, and Courtney Stewart.

Courtney and Casey are the team behind Belle Fresca, a fresh produce cafe and bakery, which opened on Saturday morning, in the old Fridgies Fruit Bowl building on Masterton’s High St.

The sisters “pooled their resources” and bought the Fridgies business earlier this year, and have since been hard at work setting up the new business.

Belle Fresca will specialise in locally-sourced fruit and vegetables, baked goods using seasonal produce, “unique” coffee flavourings, and plastic-free packaging alternatives – as well as the real-fruit ice creams Fridgies was best known for.

Unlike many siblings, Casey, 23, and 25-year-old Courtney spent much of their youth in different households.

After their parents separated, Courtney moved in with their mum, while Casey and their brother stayed with their dad, and the girls would mostly see each other on weekends.

The sisters had also separated by distance, when Casey moved to Christchurch at 17 to study agricultural science.

Starting Belle Fresca, Courtney said, had given them a chance to reconnect – and, far from inspiring sibling rivalry, had helped strengthen their relationship.

“Going into business has helped us get to know each other as adult siblings, and now our relationship is awesome – I can’t imagine life without Casey,” Courtney said.

“I thought we’d fight heaps, but we work together really well.

“We balance each other out, but we have a lot of the same ideas.”

Casey agrees.

“It’s cool – we’re a good yin and yang team.”

“Belle Fresca is an opportunity for us to do something together that we can be proud of.”

Casey and Courtney have hospitality in the blood.

Their father Robert, now owner of the Wairarapa Event Fuel food trucks, ran the kitchens at Netball Wairarapa, and the sisters started working for him while in college.

Both have worked in various hospitality roles and are trained baristas.

Ever since they were young, Casey and Courtney had plans to start their own food-related business.

When Fridgies – a beloved institution for Masterton shoppers for many years – came up for sale this year, they decided it was time to make their move.

“We have a lot of great memories as kids of going to Fridgies on a Sunday, and getting real fruit ice creams and the $25 produce boxes,” Courtney said.

“It was such a fun, family-friendly place, but it had lost its spark over the years – and we wanted to bring that back.”

Casey said it seemed like the “perfect opportunity”.

“We thought we’d be stupid to turn it down.”

The sisters took possession of the site in June, and have spent the past couple of months giving the place “some TLC”, doing the painting and steam-cleaning themselves, with help from family.

They have also been attending a business course at Te Wananga o Aotearoa, helping them upskill in marketing, researching products and financial acumen.

As young female entrepreneurs, the sisters have faced some scepticism, and “mansplaining”, Courtney said, but remain undeterred.

“Some people have thought we’re a bit young and naive.

“But we’ve done our research and we’re determined to do this right.”

Mostly, they look forward to showcasing the “beautifully fresh” produce Wairarapa has to offer.

Belle Fresca is open in the St James Shopping Centre, 101A High St, Masterton.

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