Isolation does not stop people of St George accessing fine food and great coffee as one businesswoman makes her mark in western Queensland.

A lifetime of multicultural influences and a determination to make the most of challenges thrown her way saw Claire Mackey take on her dream of opening a deli and café almost five years ago and she has not looked back. Though Delicate Gourmet Foods is located in south west Queensland’s St George, some 500km from Brisbane, walking in you feel transported to any bustling upmarket urban coffee house. Claire’s attention to detail, creative flair and love of fine food is evident. Though she will not admit it, Claire’s friends have been known to say, “There’s not much that Claire can’t do!” Whether it is cooking, entertaining, sewing, knitting, gardening or home decorating, Claire has always enjoyed expressing creativity and going the extra mile to beautify her surroundings.

Claire’s parents hail from England and her father’s job as a soil chemist took the family to a posting on a tea plantation near Nairobi in Kenya. Claire was born nearby and lived in Kenya until her family came to Australia when she was four years old. From a young age, Claire was taught by her mother to cook, knit and sew and she has always loved entertaining. “When I was 10, I could follow a recipe and make a cake or a basic meal,” says Claire. “I recall on one occasion I produced a rather crunchy cake – as when the recipe called for eggs, I put the whole eggs in, shell and all!” she laughs.

Claire spent 19 years working for TAFE as a business teacher and it was on a posting to Narrabri in New South Wales that she met her husband, Hugh. When Claire and Hugh moved to St George, Claire decided to open a deli and coffee shop, having always had the dream of one day owning her own business. “I didn’t want to die wondering if I could do it or not.” Overcoming obstacles does not come new to Claire who survived a massive brain haemorrhage when her two children, Luke and Sam, were very young. “I certainly don’t dwell on it, but it was a lifechanging experience – I was told that I might not live (I could) be paralysed down one side, lose my speech, or fully recover,” recalls Claire, explaining that it took 10 years to return to good health, with a year spent learning to talk and walk again. “I have always lived by the adage: they can conquer who believe they can”.

On Melbourne Cup Day 2010, Delicate opened its doors with only four tables. Almost five years later, the business has expanded significantly to include an outdoor eating area and the shop is fully stocked with beautiful giftware, kitchenware, deli food and gourmet pantry goods. Claire strives to ensure most of the menu is made on premises, with a focus on quality ingredients. Both of Claire’s grandmothers, Cate and Catherine, are the motivation for Delicate. “My grandmother was a really great businesswoman; I really respect what she did – she was before her time,” reflects Claire. You could say that Claire is now continuing the family legacy.

Words by Kerryn Suttor Images by Dana Gluzde