"What a find!"
That's how Meadow Fresh New Zealand Café of the Year judge Kerry Tyack reacted to discovering the hidden gem that is Te Puke's The Daily Cafe.
Last week the cafe was named the best in the country after also winning the best regional town cafe award at the awards' announcement in Auckland.
Since then, there has been a whirlwind of activity, with live radio interviews, photo shoots and celebrations — as well as a major increase in people making a bee line for the Commerce St cafe.
What sets The Daily cafe apart is that it is run with a not for profit ethos — as a community asset. Behind it is the Search Party Charitable Trust made up of Chrissi and
Marty Robinson, Richard Crawford and Andrew Reid.
Profits go back into the Te Puke community through community initiatives, lending a helping hand and training, and also to provide fresh drinking water in Cambodia.
There are free pizza nights that are becoming increasingly popular and, from time to time, the cafe is transformed into a communal kitchen making cottage pies that are then available as crisis meals.
"It's been really busy since we heard,'' says Chrissi. ''We had to sit down with our manager to ring old employees and casuals, asking if they had any time they could come in.
''It's amazing how many people are coming from out of town. Normally, you look around and see a lot of familiar faces, but at the moment there's lots of different people and they are taking photos of the place and saying 'we thought we had to come and see the cafe of the year'.
While the plan was to keep the announcement a surprise, the cat was almost let out of the bag more than once, with a rep almost letting it slip and Seven Sharp presenter Lucas de Jong being economic with the truth when he visited to film a segment for the show beforehand.
''[Organisers] shouted us accommodation so we could attend the evening and I thought that's nice, have they done that because we are a charity?
''But a few things made us wonder — they made quite an effort to get us there.''
Chrissi says the trustees were stoked to win the best regional town cafe award.
''Then they called out that [The Daily] was the overall winner as well and we were just blown away.
''They said our name and there was that little minute of "that's us". Then I was jumping up and down and I threw myself at Marty and then I just got up and couldn't stop smiling.''
Chrissi says Te Puke has made the cafe.
''I just so proud of this town. People know the story and the way the town has supported us, and we just wouldn't be here and have got it up and running if it wasn't for those people who supported us.''
The cafe has been open for only 15 months.
''We are all just Te Puke locals and the employees are all Te Puke people and I just love the fact that Te Puke is able to pull something out, to win something on a national level.''
What a find! Tucked away just off the Te Puke highway, sits one of the most interesting cafes we came across. Its cheekiness brings an immediate smile as you approach through an outdoor seating area into a vast mélange of mismatched seating. The service is coordinated and uncomplicated. The sweet and savoury fare is home-made and certainly tasty. When the food and coffee arrive, you know someone in the kitchen knows how to satisfy a Kiwi appetite with generous portions. Instead of having 30 different menu items, The Daily Café provide three to six fresh meals daily to choose from, made of good wholesome food according to the season and reasonably priced. The freshness of the garden vegetables — often from the community garden across the road or from the community members - the use of the herbs from the cafe's garden and the menu that changes daily show a commitment to excellence that is as welcome as the discovery of its generosity.
Judge Kerry Tyack