Dairy passion follows Ben Evans from Koroit to Fitzroy

BUSY: Former Koroit footballer Ben Evans is excited about the growth of his Fitzroy-based business Saint David Dairy.
BUSY: Former Koroit footballer Ben Evans is excited about the growth of his Fitzroy-based business Saint David Dairy.

Ben, your sporting highlight is an amazing one - can you give me any more details about your achievement?

I was 15-years-old when I beat (Russell) Mark and (Bill) Iles. Both shooters went on to greater levels in the sport for their country than competing in an event at the Noorat Gun Club. My family have been heavily involved in the sport. Anthony, my dad, had won the gold medal at the Masters Games. He is the president of the Warrnambool Field and Game Club. I quit shooting when I decided to play footy but now I look back I was a lot better shooter than a footballer.

Where did your footy career begin?

I played juniors with Koroit. Our arch-enemy in the younger grades was South Juniors. During my career I played in six losing junior grand finals with Koroit.

I've still got fond memories of my junior years playing footy at Koroit as senior players like Glen Keane, Anthony Mahony, Des Mugavin, Mark Bowman and Anthony Brady would always take a keen interest in how the junior lads were going.

I played in the senior Koroit side in the first-semi final in 2002 when we beat Terang before losing the preliminary final to South Warrnambool.

I'll never forget in late 2002 I was having a few drinks with Mark Paton and Jarrod Gleeson in the Irish pub in Warrnambool and we said we might as well go to a real Irish pub so we decided to go to Ireland.

Jarrod ended up staying home and played in the Koroit premiership side in 2003, while Mark and I headed overseas. We came back to see the grand final win in 2003 over Camperdown. I was like all Koroit supporters on that grand final day –  I never thought they would recover from being 48 points down at half-time. It's history now that the Saints got up to win.

I'm just so glad that I came back home from Ireland to see one of the greatest Hampden league grand finals.

My wife and I set up a business in Melbourne three years ago, so I missed watching the 2015 grand final win because of business and family commitments but I booked the social box for the opening game of this season against Port Fairy and had a great day.

What sort of jobs did you work at when you arrived in Ireland?

That's a good question. Mark and I spoke to Koroit's Steve Quinlan before we left for Dublin. Steve told us his dad Terry had relations in Dublin.

Terry's relations met us at the airport and took us to their farm. Mark and I stayed there for a month.

We milked cows and carted hay. We had a great time with them and were very appreciative of the Quinlan family for what they did for us.

I then got a job pulling beers in a pub before working in construction. I ended up being overseas for 18 months.

Ben, you mentioned that you've had a business in Melbourne for three years. Did setting up Saint David Dairy stretch you to the limit financially?

Setting the business up did stretch our finances. We had to sell our apartment which we had in Lygon Street and even sold our car to get a refrigerated truck.

It was a $300,000 investment. We set up a micro dairy in Fitzroy. The factory used to be an Italian meat and smallgoods business. Our business was very time consuming as we used to bottle milk by hand.

They were two-litre bottles and you used to have to screw the caps on.

We had lots of family members and friends assist us in the early days before we got the money to buy various machines. My wife Bianca had to quit her day job in Chinese medicine as we got busier.  

Dairying was in my blood – I would often spend time at my grandfathers (Tom and Mavis Finnigan) Toolong farm when I was growing up.

I worked at Murray Goulburn in dairy technology for six years which gave me a great understanding of the dairy industry. I was the production manager at Bega cheese in Coburg for six years.

How many people does the business employ now?

We've got 11 workers. The business has really grown over the past three  years. The growth has been bigger than we anticipated –  for example last week 41,000 litres of milk went through our humble little factory.

We supply fresh milk to lots of cafes across Melbourne but we're always looking at expanding the St David Dairy brand. I'm proud to say the business is one of the sponsors at the upcoming Koroit Irish Festival.

I just thought it was a great way of putting something back into the local community which had done so much for me when I was growing up.

Why the name St David Dairy?

Our factory is located in St David Street, Fitzroy, just off Brunswick Street. I'm in at the factory at 4am five days in the week as we load the truck for 5am deliveries. We're in the process of having a baby milk tanker on the road. Anthony Morris and John O'Rourke from up at Koroit are putting the final touches to the tanker.

There’s no business like it in inner-Melbourne any more. It’s been 40 or 50 years since the last dairy closed in inner Melbourne.

Since then it (milk production) has been rationalised to super factories and 70 per cent of the milk sold in Australia is manufactured or packed by foreign-owned companies, so I suppose we're just living the dream which I had years ago when I went to my grandparents farm at Toolong.

Do you have any other dreams relating to the business?

I would love to think we would be able to buy our own dairy farm one day and supply our own milk. That would be another part of the dream.