We chat to a group of foodies who wave the flag of good taste at the establishments they run (next to the rainbow flag out front, of course!) We ask them about their customers and their fare, and end up with a few yarns along the way!
“I came here from Lola Bar on Ponsonby Road. The transition from night work to day work was challenging at first – especially with the 4am wake up calls I had to start having – but I’m quite liking seeing the sun again and being able to see friends.
“Urban Café has been here for seven years – that’s a long time in café years and even more in gay years! Every year on the birthday we do one dollar coffees – it’s crazy, silly and fun… there are lines down the stairs and out onto the street!”
In your neighbourhood
“We have a really diverse group of people here, which fascinates me. There are a lot of big corporates up the road – Lion Breweries, Johnson & Johnson – and then you get gym bunnies, mothers with children, gay boys, the Prime Minister; you name it! It’s a real mix of people who will pack us up for breakfast, morning tea and lunch.
“We don’t give people table numbers if we know them – we know their names, a little bit about them and what they eat and drink. Some of them don’t even need to order. They love that and I’m glad Urban insists on it.”
The Key to success
“For those of you who don’t know, Urban Café was the scene of the teapot scandal with John Key and John Banks. We had about 45 media people here before they even got here and none of them bought a bloody thing… that pissed me off a little bit! The actual ‘saga’ part was pretty non-eventful, but I did see the manbag on the table and wondered whose it was. You’d think the PM’s staff would think to check on all stuff that doesn’t belong to John or John… what if it was anthrax or a bomb!? It’s helped us though – we’ve had more people through and tea sales have gone through the roof. The best part was that former Prime Minister Jenny Shipley paid for a Perspex box and plaque for the teapot; ‘The Keypot’ now sits behind our counter.
“Our big sellers are our seasonal salads, as well as our sandwiches. Our breakfast sandwich is a big hit, as are a couple of more “mature” dishes – slow-cooked kidneys and bacon is a favourite, as is the corned beef hash cake. We’ve tried to switch these items out of the menu in the past and had complaints from people who love them!
“I just came back from holidays – I was in Argentina for three weeks. My mum lives there, so I visited her then Buernos Aires. Going home to see my mother means eating a lot of my mother’s food – every day I ate steak! She makes very good Milanesa, which is a piece of beef that is breadcrumbed and cooked; it’s very nice.
“My mother didn’t teach me how to cook very much, but I did watch her and pick a lot of things up. I also worked in an ice cream shop that my parents ran when I was a kid. It didn’t mean that I learned more about food though – I would get home at midnight and eat a fried egg!
“I’ve just finished with the council consent for new premises – it’s taken a very long time. The properties have different owners so there’s a lot of paperwork that needs to go through the council and it’s taken so long to get it sorted. We’re hoping work can start now and start soon – we had an architect and builder through the other day. It won’t take that much time once we get started, because it’s pretty much just knocking out a wall. Hopefully the restaurant will be open by April or May.
“When we open up the new area we will be open for dinner – we will be open from 6am until late at night. I will only work one of those shifts! I have no life at the moment anyway because I have a business, but working more than one shift a day will not be good. I have an amazing manager right now called Lisa – she keeps the group together and means I don’t have to be there all the time… I can actually see my husband!”
In your neighbourhood
“We have so many regulars here – the guys from Urge Bar come here a lot, so do people from the AIDS Foundation. These people are family to us – they are part of the furniture. We love having them around. It’s a nice place for a meeting, so we see people here for coffees and snacks a lot. Although, we will soon have a meeting for 50 people – there won’t be much more space left once we get them all in here!
“A lot of people come here for the specials – every week the board changes and we put some new treats up. Nick is a fabulous chef – we’ve had him for just over a year.”
Wave the flag
“The flag is the first thing to go out in the morning and is the last thing to come in at night. We’ve had a few people come in off the street just because of the flag – we have a bus driver who stops here every day now because of the flag, and you would never think this guy was gay!”
“Garnet Station has seen a bit of a change this past year. It was too hard with just one small room, so we’ve opened up two additional rooms and filled them with repurposed and pre-loved furniture, coverings and artwork. It’s been fantastic because it’s allowed us to expand incrementally. Changing incrementally has meant we can go at our own pace and not shock our systems. We’re not on a fast train to anywhere – we own the building here so we don’t need to worry about where our next rent cheque is coming from.
“We live out the back now – we used to rent it out but now it’s ours. The commute is amazing… I have the best carbon footprint of anyone I know!”
In your neighbourhood
“Cafes are full of stories and here is no different. Customers will tell us stories that you just wouldn’t believe – some of them are really out there and others are just really personal; it’s like Cheers. Sometimes I have to stop myself and wonder if we’re in a soap opera!
“The mix of customers is always fun to chart. From 7-9am we have the fast commuters, then between 9-10am it’s baby city, then after that we have a few more groovy, hip people ready to hang out and hang about.
“We’ve just been featured in the New Zealand Café Book and we get a lot of destination customers. We also get people come in carrying reviews from The Herald or other publications, saying that’s how they found us. We’ve been blessed with good reviews, which bring us new people, and then there are always the locals.”
Wave the flag
“We’ve just put a crispy new rainbow flag out front. Almost instantly after we put it out, we had a Spanish boy come in here looking for a job and people to meet. We gave him a copy of express and showed him all the places he could go and the people he could meet, then he was on his way! This happens from time to time – people will come in off the street to find out where local gay events are.
“We have Dykes on Mics events in the back section of the café once a month and the place packs out with women. Oftentimes you’ll find me out the front of the shop trying to stop myself from feeling claustrophobic, but the women love it.
“We’re starting cooked breakfasts soon, simply because there’s been so much demand for it. So far we’ve had to turn away a lot of people hungry for eggs, so we’re working on a menu that has standard fare with a twist. That should be rolled out in early February.
“We do have a bunch of breakfast foods on offer – one of our favourites is the bacon and egg roll; from the day we started making them, they just rolled out the door. I’ll be the one banging the breakfasts out in the kitchen, and then no doubt turning around two months later to tell myself I can’t do it! Breakfast work will be a bit of a quantum leap for us, but I’m looking forward to it.
“We have a real homemade feel here – we bake all of our own muffins, scones, savoury scones and gluten free chocolate brownies, and we make all of our own pies.”
Greg Firkins (and partner Kim)
“We run Boulevard Catering out of the stunning Footbridge Lodge in Bombay. We used to have a business in Manurewa and did so for 16 years, but moved here around a year ago. I found about Footbridge Lodge all those years ago after doing a wedding out here – after that first wedding, we never left. We now live and work on the property – we have a little place at the top of the driveway. It’s a wonderful area – it’s a real paradise.
“Our bread and butter is catering for events at Footbridge Lodge, but we also do corporate functions and private catering. We’re starting to do a lot of private catering for gay groups – prior to Christmas we did a few. This has just been through word-of-mouth because people know us, but we’d like to extend that welcome out to the whole community.”
Getting into it
“I’m a chef by trade – I studied for three years as an apprentice but then went overseas and worked in South Africa and England. When I came back I worked for a corporate catering company in the city. Then an opportunity arose to buy a little coffee lounge called Boulevard Coffee Lounge in Otahuhu and it just grew from there into Boulevard Catering. “I fell into catering work – I started with it and stayed with it. I like working with big groups and actually meeting the customers. I think that in restaurants or hotels you can get stuck behind the scenes, but with this sort of work you are meeting people and creating the menu with them.”
Tuck in, muck in and get hitched!
“Weddings are happening here every Saturday at the moment, but sometimes we’ll have Fridays or Sundays too. Sometimes this quietens down in winter, but this year we have five bookings in June and at least six weddings in September… there’s only four weekends in your standard month!
“For weddings, I have at least two meetings with people to organise the menu and sometimes more to get everything sorted. From there, it takes a day to do the ordering, a day to get supplies in and go shopping, and then it’s another day of preparing stuff in the kitchen. On the day it will be generally a ten-hour day to put it together, serve it and clean up. It’s not just a one-day affair.
“Ngaire, one of the owners of Footbridge Lodge, is a celebrant and she can do civil unions – it’s a really nice, welcoming place for the community out here. We’ve got a gay group coming in for an afternoon tea next weekend, which should be fun. We can also do corporate meetings, conferences and all sorts of events here. Imagine going to a conference and then taking a walk around the 50-acre property at lunch!
“As for food, we do mostly buffet work here. It’s best to have a buffet for weddings, because you have so many different diets to cater for. We’re also doing a lot of plated dinners, which are becoming more popular. My favourite style is Italian country style, so you’ll see a bit of that in the menus when requested.”