The owner/operator of a vegan cafe says he is being forced to close after customers complained about not being served dairy milk.
Mangawhai's Cool Beans Cafe has been offering plant-based products only, including home-made almond milk, since July 27 as a means to reduce its environmental impact.
Owner/operator Morgan Redfern-Hardisty said he was told by the Mangawhai Activity Zone Charitable Trust (MAZCT), which manages commercial operations on the Kaipara District Council-owned Mangawhai Activity Zone (MAZ), there were complaints about him not offering dairy products.
The trust told him he needed to revert to the "status quo" for his contract to be renewed, he said.
"That is where it ends for me," Redfern-Hardisty said.
"Some people have complained and it seems like I am not catering to everyone's taste. When it comes down to taste, or suffering, suffering is not worth it."
Trust chairman Colin Gallagher told the Herald their issue was Redfern-Hardisty's decision to offer no choice to customers to have cow's milk in their coffee.
"I am responsible to ensure all visitors have a safe and enjoyable visit to the park. To suggest they could walk elsewhere for a coffee of their choice defeats the purpose of mum and dad being with their children while they played.
"We suggested organic milk was just fine by us, but again he refused. I personally said he could place a sign in his cafe saying that using cow's milk is against his beliefs but to give customers a choice I have been asked to do it by MAZ."
Redfern-Hardisty, who has been vegan for three years after developing Crohn's disease, said since he made the change to only plant-based products the majority of the community had been "very supportive".
"My intention purely was to reduce the cafe's impact on the environment, provide healthy alternatives and to not use and exploit animals in any way. Even the best dairy farms in New Zealand are still tainting the waterways."
The change was also a conversation-starter with customers about dairy-alternatives.
"I had been holding my tongue serving cow's milk, but since making the switch the community reaction has been so positive," Redfern-Hardisty said.
"There is a trend happening worldwide towards more environmental, ethical and health conscious products, and so when people saw a small cafe like mine make this change they were very supportive. I just thought New Zealand is so adaptable."
Redfern-Hardisty offered six milk alternatives to dairy, including the homemade almond milk, and soy, oat, rye, coconut and hazelnut options. It also offered ice creams, smoothies, stacked cheese toasties, crispy sausage rolls and sweet raw goods.
Before he made the change the MAZCT had warned him it might not be "financially wise", Redfern-Hardisty said.
But it had been the opposite.
"Business has been booming. Sales have been up 25 per cent over the past month."
Over the past two years he had kept a "good relationship" with the trust, he said.
He kept a fundraising box for the trust on his counter, did a lot of volunteer work at the skatepark, and even shaved his dreadlocks off in June raising them $1325.
"There has been a lot of mutual respect up to this point. I even told them about my changes in advance, but for some reason they thought they could have a say over what ingredients I could offer. It was ludicrous, I thought it was a joke."
Redfern-Hardisty said at this point it looked like his last day operating would be Labour Day.
Trust chairman Colin Gallagher said the committee had "bent over backwards" to assist Redfern-Hardisty.
The trust owned the coffee container Cool Beans Cafe ran out of, and had paid for all set up costs. Redfern-Hardisty paid no rent, nor electricity or filtered water bills.
The trust initially took 10 per cent of gross earnings, but this was reduced to 5 per cent, Gallagher said.
"Morgan was adding to the ambiance and spirit of MAZ, which vindicated our original reason for having a coffee outlet and the committee was happy indeed with Morgan's attitude and support in return."
However, Redfern-Hardisty had decided to turn the cafe vegan against the committee's wishes, which voted five to three on the issue, with one trustee abstaining.
Gallagher said they were happy for Redfern-Hardisty to continue running the cafe, provided he offered a choice of dairy milk to customers.
Members of the Mangawhai community have expressed outrage on social media at the trust's decision.
A petition launched yesterday calling for the trust to reverse its decision has already garnered over 2000 signatures.