Being able to share their love of music and food with other people is a labour of love rather than a job for Levin couple Peter and Kathy Leith.

It's been that way in Levin ever since they converted a shed on their property into a cafe, function centre, bar and concert venue 18 years ago, hosting countless weddings and birthdays - or just helping to facilitate a good night out.

The couple had previously owned the iconic Manakau Hotel so had the recipe for a wholesome food and music medley already.

Ever since Peter insulated the walls and floor and put a new roof on the shed, built a stage out of crates that had been used to import lily bulbs from Holland and rolled in a piano, there have been some nights to remember at Lily's Ranch House.

Advertisement

The couple are always in the thick of it - Kathy as a wedding celebrant, and Peter - a talented musician - often providing the music complimentary, for the love of it.

Kathy and Peter Leith.
Kathy and Peter Leith.

Peter plays a variety of instruments like piano, guitar, base guitar and ukelele. His best instrument though, according to Kathy, is his voice.

Kathy's passion lies in hosting people and cooking food, although she has been known to join Peter onstage in a duet when she can get out of the kitchen. They often sing together.

"He harmonises and makes me sound amazing," she said.

She likes to sing songs by The Carpenters, or Ann Murray, and a personal favourite is Islands in the Stream, by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton.

Peter loves The Eagles.

Country and bluegrass band Harvest Moon in action at Lily's Ranch House earlier this month.
Country and bluegrass band Harvest Moon in action at Lily's Ranch House earlier this month.

There aren't many instruments he can't play but prefers being behind the piano singing hence Friday evenings being called Piano Bar. He also enjoys other people joining in. There have been many nights when the music was ad hoc.

The sound from live bands often wafts down Fairfield Road, a close-knit rural neighbourhood. Peter and Kathy have never had a Council noise complaint from their neighbours in 18 years.

Advertisement

"We only do 21st birthdays if they are a family thing," she said.

Kathy said it was all about wholesome entertainment and enjoyment and they were mindful of not pretending to be something they are not. Music is their first priority and Kathy has often told potential diners that if they are wanting a fine dining experience then Lily's is probably not for them.

Go LOCAL!
Go LOCAL!

They had a website that told of upcoming bands and events. On open mic nights they ask that if anyone singing to bring their own microphone in the interests of hygiene, or use one of their microphone covers.

They had also hosted countless visiting musicians in that time, including Andrew London, Hogsnort Goodtime band, and most recently Harvest Moon.

Local bands like country rock band Gravel Trax often play, too. The line up of consists of Geoff Lewis, Steve Poulton, Allan Head, Des Anderson and Derek Ashford.

They encourage people to get up and dance to songs like The Gambler, Country Road, Margaritaville and Wagon Wheel.

Advertisement
Gravel Trax at Lily's Ranchhouse.
Gravel Trax at Lily's Ranchhouse.

Back in the kitchen, Kathy says they never pretend to be a five-star restaurant. The tone has always been on simple food. The bar prices are kept low and the food delicious but deliberately simple and true to her Italian heritage.

She loves putting home-grown ingredients into the menu wherever possible - bread and butter pudding with raspberries and cream, or a lemon and passionfruit cheesecake. Kathy also grows a variety of herbs to flavour her dishes.

An avocado tree they first planted 18 years ago was now bearing fruit. They have apple trees, mandarins, berries, lemons and limes. There is always fish on the menu, too, delivered fresh from Hawkes Bay.

"I like to do simple things that are fresh and well cooked. I don't do fancy stuff. My love is simple food - it's the whole Italian thing - simple and fresh," she said.

"Levin is amazing for growing, good soil and rainfall, and a temperate climate with very little wind."

While the Leith's had "branched" out into different areas of growing to keep up with market dynamics, the Ranch House and the music had always remained a constant through those a'changing times.

Advertisement

When they originally bought the property in 2002 it was an existing lily farm and renamed it Universal Flower Corp.

They worked hard on the gardens and gave tours which in the beginning only grew flowers. They continue to grow and breed flowers for market today.

Lily's Ranch House.
Lily's Ranch House.

Peter, an accountant by trade, could turn his hand to anything and now operated a successful business making cattlestops from another shed on the southern end of their property just down the road from the Ranch House.

The cattlestops are sold nationwide and have even been exported.

But Sunday is usually family day, and they enjoy the chance to host their favourite Ranch House visitors - their 11 grandchildren.