Fi Greig was always a natural cook, so it was no surprise when she started a course training to be a chef at Whitireia Polytech.
Originally, she wanted to be a social worker, but was drawn to the more hands-on type of learning that cheffing provided.
During her studies, she competed in a cooking competition in Wellington, in which she won a bronze medal.
The course only lasted a year, and when she left polytech, Fi started her first hospitality job (other than the part-time work she did as a teenager) working as a day chef at The Front Room at Waikanae Beach.
“Back in those days [17 years ago], it was the best place on the coast.”
She says it was there she learned everything she knows and all the grounding skills required for cheffing.
But after six years working there, she stopped learning new skills.
She had obtained all the knowledge she could from The Front Room, so she partnered up with one of her colleagues and started a business called Macaroon Catering.
“I got to a point there where I stopped learning and I was on autopilot, and I just knew I was destined for more.”
She wanted to branch out on her own, so at a friend’s request, she bought into the Marine Parade Deli in Paraparaumu Beach, which wasn’t doing well at the time, with two partners.
“I took a leap, bought into that and worked really hard, and turned that place around.”
Before Fi got involved, the deli was mainly selling pizzas and items out of a cabinet, but when she took over, she completely overhauled that system by developing a full-blown menu, hosting opening nights and changing the business’ name to Marine Parade Eatery.
About six years into owning that business, she was offered an opportunity to cater for the wedding season at the Sudbury wedding venue in Te Horo.
And then, to ensure all the earnings from the wedding season went to her rather than the business she shared with her two partners, the Sunday Cantina was born.
In 2018, Fi opened the first Sunday Cantina cafe on Mahara Place in Waikanae.
It was the perfect location – Mahara Place was a bustling hotspot at the time, and the Sunday Cantina was busy.
Fi decided to sell the Marine Parade Eatery in 2019, after six years, to focus solely on the Sunday Cantina, and she opened a second Sunday Cantina in Raumati South.
She was also continuing to offer a catering service and started doing cooking classes, teaching around 700 people a year.
“We have people who come from Hawke’s Bay, and a huge crowd from Wellington now that the motorway has been finished.
“We get them from all over.”
But nothing lasts forever, and the hustle and bustle of Mahara Place died out when the Waikanae Library closed due to poor air quality.
Aongside the effects of Covid, that greatly affected business for the Sunday Cantina, so Fi sold the Waikanae cafe.
“I posted on Facebook that I was going to sell - I sold it that afternoon, and I was out two weeks later.
“Sometimes, things are just meant to happen.
“Letting go of Waikanae, I became very invested in this place [the Raumati South branch].
And the Raumati South branch was busy... that is, until the lockdown forced businesses to close.
The lockdown occurred just a week after the Raumati South cafe opened - Fi had a lot of food and nothing to do with it.
Her online cooking classes were still a big hit, though, and she quickly burned through the food she had and then found she had food donations coming in from the community.
Members of the community were also giving her money to keep the business afloat, and in return, Fi gave them credit for the cafe.
“Lots of people gave me like $500, and when we re-opened, they would have $750 they could use here, so they got 25 per cent more.
“Some people still haven’t even used it; some people obviously just gifted me the money.”
This allowed her to raise $13,000, which really helped her get through Covid, and when the cafe eventually re-opened, Fi says it was busier than ever.
“I think we were really lucky because we were new, so when we re-opened, everyone just came back.
“We were the first place everyone wanted to come to because we had only just opened.
“We were really lucky in that aspect, and honestly, we pretty much got through Covid unharmed.”
Fast-forward to today, and Fi says the recession is really hitting the business hard, since fewer people have disposable income and can afford to eat out.
“People just don’t have the money, and the first thing that’s going to go is eating out.”
But while business may have slowed down in the cafe, the numbers for Fi’s catering services and cooking classes has skyrocketed.
There are also plans in the works for a new eatery next year, which Fi is really excited about.
Fi said the Sunday Cantina’s fresh, healthy approach is what sets it apart from other cafes in the district.
“You won’t find anything on our menu that you’ll find anywhere else.
“You would never go somewhere else and find any one of our salads on the menu.”
She creates all her recipes herself, and has even written two recipe books – Sunday Cantina and Fi Greig.
Sunday Cantina is completely sold out, but her second book is still available online, and Fi says both books have sold internationally, including in Australia, Chile and Ireland.
Outside of work, Fi is a facilitator of the Rebel Business School and started the Wahine Society, which promotes holistic wellbeing for women, especially women in business.
“What I really love is inspiring people and empowering them.
“I am still 100 per cent on this hospitality journey, but I have really enjoyed having a mixture of business, holistic wellbeing and food, because I think it all comes into one thing.”
This story appears in the latest spring/summer edition of the Celebrating Kāpiti magazine.