When Bill Fleming and his good friend John Selwood arrived from the Eastern States in 1982 and were unable to find a good Mexican Restaurant close to home, they decided to open one for themselves. A history of running the Cabarita Swimming Pool in Sydney prepared them not at all for this enterprise; however, a love of good food and an enterprising attitude was all they needed.
Cottesloe residents may remember Mexi Pete’s on the corner of Napier Street and Marine Parade, Cottesloe – or perhaps not, as it was exactly half way between the Ocean Beach Hotel and the Cottesloe Hotel, and used to attract revellers on their unstable way home following the Sunday Session! Many well known Perth identities started their careers at Mexi Pete’s – performing character building jobs such as washing the dishes after school. To mention but a few: Peter Gibbons (North West Property Consultants), Luke Morfesse (Media and Communications Manager for the Fremantle Dockers), Dave McAuliffe (Biotechnology Consultant), Dave Shaw (drummer for The Stems), Jake ‘The Snake’ Paterson (World Ranking #5 Surfer in 2000 and 2001) and his brother Paul ‘Antman’ Paterson (winner of the 1996 Surfing World Cup at Sunset Beach).
Although the decor at Mexi Pete’s was somewhat cheap and nasty, the food was outstanding, and with some encouragement from prospective buyers, Bill and John went into producing chilli sauce on the side. They rented a commercial kitchen in Wembley which they shared with caterers, and, starting with a 20 litre pot, commenced production of sauce for the retail market.
During this time, US Navy ships were frequent visitors to Fremantle, and Bill and John were called on to supply bulk quantities of burritos for the visiting sailors.
One sauce led to another, Mexi Pete’s closed down, Wisemate Foods Pty Ltd was registered as a company, and soon Bill and John moved to a new factory in Osborne Park, where they gradually expanded and consolidated their business. In 1987, John left the business to pursue a career in Horticulture, and Bill eventually went into partnership with Michael Fowler, another friend from Sydney who was involved in the Perth food industry.
In 2003 Wisemate Foods became HACCP accredited, and with increasing rents in Osborne Park, it made sense to look for new premises with custom-built processing areas. Land was purchased in Wangara and a new factory was designed to suit our manufacturing needs.
In 2005, Bill’s wife, Deirdre, eager to return to work after fourteen years of running the house and raising their three children, joined the company, and set about applying her science background to the food technology and labelling compliance areas of the business.
In 2006, after a holiday romance, Michael moved to Thailand to marry Preeda, and Deirdre became a co-director of the company. The company had meanwhile branched out into sachet filling as well as bottling, and new markets began to open up in contract filling for value-added vegetable and meat packs.
Always on the lookout for improvements to the business, Bill continually invested the company profits in new machinery for processing, capping and labelling and was a regular visitor to the Auspack exhibitions. The company’s employees were also key ingredients in the success of the business, and Bill soon built up around him a loyal team of workers whose skills were constantly improving.
But life always has challenges in store for us, and in early 2012, Bill was diagnosed with cancer. In spite of the chemotherapy and two rounds of surgery, Bill always remained cheerful and courageously set about making sure the business was in safe hands, should his condition deteriorate. His daughter, Elinor, had just completed her Bachelor of Science (Physics), with Honours in Mathematics, and he invited her to consider working in the family business where she had often been employed during uni holidays. Elinor spent most of the year 2013 learning the ropes and accompanying Bill to machinery exhibitions. She displayed a flair for engineering and her analytical mind was quick to solve the technical difficulties that arose from time to time.
Bill continued to come in to work until January 2014, but his condition suddenly worsened and he passed away peacefully in March. His good humour, his generosity and his wonderful way of spreading happiness to all around him are sorely missed by all of us at Wisemate, but we know the best way of honouring him is to be good stewards of the business he founded. Elinor and Deirdre Fleming are now joint Directors of the company, surrounded by a fantastic team of workers. Wisemate Foods continues to forge ahead in several areas, and we are contract filling for a number of companies, while also manufacturing under our own brands, Gourmetchef and Caterchef.