Spilling the beans on Tauranga's cafe culture

By James Fuller

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Times might be tough but Tauranga's cafe sector is bucking the economic trend with three more establishments opening their doors.

The Lobby Cafe, in Devonport Rd and Nourish Cafe, in Te Puna Rd, Te Puna, have launched within the last few weeks and Elizabeth Cafe and Larder, on the corner of Elizabeth and Cameron Rds, is set to follow in September.

Joanne Brown, who is starting Elizabeth Cafe and Larder with business partner and executive chef Andrew Target, said the activity was good news for the city.

"It's great news, it's keeping Tauranga vibrant and creating jobs."

Miss Brown, who also owns The Med Cafe in Devonport Rd, told the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend the new venue was a significant undertaking.

"The Med employs 15 staff but this is three times as big so we're looking at 30 to 40 staff.

"It's very exciting and positive for employment in the area.

"There's a serious amount of money being spent on the cafe and we believe Tauranga is looking for something new and fresh like this."

Ten new staff members had already been sourced but adverts for the remaining positions would soon appear, said Miss Brown. She added that her new cafe would be on the ground floor of the new office building located at the busy Elizabeth/Cameron Rd intersection.

"There are going to be more than 400 staff in the building but we are open to the public as well. There will be an outdoor area on Elizabeth St and there will be seating for 50 outside. It will be clearly visible. We're looking at opening around September 24 and will be open seven days a week. We'll also be open late Thursday to Saturday."

Nourish Cafe, which opened on July 9, is a family-run business owned by Ian and Janet Walker and their daughter, Carly Ward. The trio also own Tauranga cafe Alimento. Mrs Walker said the chance to open a Te Puna cafe had been too good to miss.

"The opportunity arose and we could see the potential of having one based in Te Puna. We're old locals ourselves, we lived here for 15 years. There's a huge catchment of people out here, from Bethlehem through to Katikati, that didn't have a large cafe like this available.

"This is a wee bit different in terms of size and having the potential to do functions."

That catchment has responded to the new cafe.

"It's been absolutely gangbusting," said Mrs Walker. "In fact, at times, we're actually outperforming Alimento, especially over the weekends. The last two Sundays would have been records even for a busy cafe like Alimento. It's been a really good response from locals and from people seeing it as a destination, coming from town."

She said cafes seemed to be holding up quite well in the present economic climate.

"I think people might be cutting down on their restaurant visits, meals at nights, but they're still coming out for coffee, breakfasts, morning teas and lunches. Maybe it's just filtered down to that level. You do still have to have your treats."

The Lobby Cafe is situated, as the name would suggest, in the lobby of the new Sharp Tudhope building, in Devonport Rd. It has been open for eight weeks and former Tay Street Cafe owners Joseph and Kirsty Goddard assisted the initial set-up phase.

Lobby Cafe manager Brydie Price said business had been brisk. She expected it to increase as more tenants filled the building and people became aware it was also open to the general public.

Mrs Price, who is a former manager of the Tay Street Cafe, said most customers were from Sharp Tudhope.

She said Powerco would occupy another floor of the building from October and insurance giant IAG would also become a tenant.

"It's been good and when Powerco comes in that's a whole new floor of customers. It's a beautiful building. Everyone in the building has a charge card and they use it like a credit card, just swipe it and charge up their coffees and lunch. We do quite a bit of catering for them upstairs as well, take coffee into their meetings that sort of thing."

Mrs Price said new furniture was expected to arrive and be fitted out within the next 12 weeks.

"It's a clean, modern cafe with beautiful timber and we're redefining the spaces soon. When the rest of the furniture arrives, tables will go outside with umbrellas and it will be a lot more obvious we're open to everyone. We're getting quite a few members of the public coming in now in any case which is good."

Alan Sciascia, Hospitality New Zealand regional manager, said the coffee business was an important industry and concerned more than coffee shops alone. He said it included establishments such as cafes, restaurants, bars and hotels, people consuming coffee in their own homes, as well as coffee roasters.

He added that, in the absence of reliable statistics, a rough calculation could be made based on population and assumed average consumption which put a value on the local industry at nearly $11 million a year.

Mr Sciascia said cafes were not recession-proof though and success was down to individual cafes finding a "winning formulae".

"The challenge for the provider is to identify the potential market, identify the needs and desires of that market, find a suitable location to meet that need and, this is the hardest part, provide an ongoing experience which brings those potential customers through the door and keeps them coming back for more."

Max Mason, CEO at the Tauranga Chamber of Commerce, said the city was the ideal location for cafes.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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