IT seems rather a fitting name for Luisa Minchella’s new health store and café, as the success of the Happy Organic venture certainly has the lady in question all smiles.
We meet on a Sunday morning at the smart, bustling café-cum-shop in Cleadon village, near South Shields.
There’s a lively chatter emanating from the inviting licensed café where an eclectic crowd of family groups, keep-fit enthusiasts and couples have popped in for brunch and coffees.
Dad Romano Minchella, who co-owns Bistro Romano, directly opposite on Front Street, and also Romano’s Italian restaurant in the Metrocentre, with his brother Paolo, is in and out of the kitchen, while Luisa’s mum Anne is behind the counter brewing up coffees. Anne’s immaculately dressed mum, meanwhile, is clearing tables.
Sweet treats on sale at the counter include walnut and banana loaf, scones and biscotti to go with your Grumpy Mule coffee or heartier offerings such as Tuscan bean soup, quiche, vegetable and bean curry, home-made pizza and avocado and prawn salad.
It’s very much a jolly family affair on the day in question.
The stylish 36-year-old may have swapped the designer clothing boutique, Aria, she used to run with her mum Anne but it’s evident the new venture is one Luisa takes great pride in.
Healthy eating is a cause particularly close to her heart as she’s in her final year of studying to be a nutritionist at the College of Naturopathic Medicine in London.
“Food’s always been in my blood but probably my inspiration was the course, learning about health and nutrition,” says Luisa, who is as slim as a pencil, dressed in patterned leggings and sparkly jumper, and positively glows with good health.
“I love visiting places like this down south, and I wanted to bring that up here.”
Members of Luisa’s extended Minchella family are, of course, famed for their terrific ice cream, with her two uncles now at the helm of that business.
“My grandfather Toney Minchella made ice cream. Three different brothers made three different flavours. My dad originally was involved in the ice cream business in the 70s and 80s but then branched out into restaurants.
“Dad has six brothers but only Carlo and Aldo run the ice-cream business.”
“Dad has had Romano’s in the village for about 14 years but he’s been in the restaurant trade for 30 years. He had a restaurant in Whitburn and also used to do the food at the Customs House in South Shields.
“Dad helps with the food side here but we’ve got three chefs as well, and mum helps on a Sunday.”
The shop’s now been open for 10 weeks in the space Aria used to occupy. Her mum, a petite figure with a blonde bob, does confess when she’s making me a cappuccino, to missing the clothes, though.
Luisa, who is single and lives in the locality with son Matteo, 13, says: “I closed Aria in June and worked all over summer on this. I did a lot of it myself.”
Happy Organic sells a range of organic and natural products, some of which are sourced locally, on sale in the shop and used in the café produce.
These range from vegetables, wines, whole foods, organic flours, some home-baked breads, meat, eggs and milk to health supplements and eco-friendly washing products. They also operate an organic veg box scheme every week. “We do Med ones, stir-fry boxes and mixed ones.
“The idea was to have really good food, healthy lines, everything’s organic, everything we make is organic, and I do source locally where I can.”
Meats are from Kielder Organic Meats and milk from Acorn Dairy in Darlington, fruit and veg from Goosemoor near Wetherby and free-range eggs from Harry Hodgson in County Durham.
The eclectic surroundings are attractive and homely. Colourful bunting is strung up and family groups sit on old church pews, there are recycled kitchen appliances and units, lights from a disused train station and 100-year-old milk crates, all sourced from junk shops and car boot sales.
Luisa points out old baker’s stands and crates and also to a long table at the back of the café. “That’s made of scaffolding planks. And I painted things myself. I recycle everything, even the old coffee grounds and my electricity is green energy Ecotricity.”
Life is hectic at the moment as Luisa juggles the shop with her studies but she is in her final year.
That entails spending long weekends in London, at clinics and attending lectures.
She is a big advocate – and some might say a shining example – of the benefits of healthy eating.
“I have found from changes to my own diet, I feel like a different person. The changes to my skin, higher energy levels and overall wellbeing. I’m very aware of what I put in to my body.
“When you start learning more about food, you also see how many chronic illnesses are around.”
Luisa says the reaction to the new shop and cafe from the locals has been very positive, and healthy visitor numbers tell their own story.
For now, the shop and cafe, family life and her studies take up all her time. But eventually Luisa would like to spread the healthy message further by going into local schools.
“I would love to go into schools and educate people about healthy eating.”