Why and how did Clareville Bakery get started?
We were passionate about baking and were drawn to the challenge of creating our own business.
How did you feel when you found out you had won your award?
We were absolutely ecstatic. We had had a pretty bad run with three of our experienced front of house team members unexpectedly all in hospital during the judging month; the rest of our team and the new members we had hired as replacements did such a wonderful job. We were so pleased our business, which was just over two years old, had a key team member willing and available to step up and that our training and operating systems were robust enough to get us through this challenge.
Do you think the hospitality industry has changed much since you started?
We're fortunate to be operating in an era of globally-influenced food. It’s a real blessing to be able to create food that, say, 20 years ago customers wouldn’t have heard of. Sourdough is a good example of that.
Who is the Clareville Bakery customer?
We have a real cross-section of customers which is fantastic. I suppose our target market is anyone who appreciates flavoursome food. We get truckies and and tradies stopping in for our gourmet pies and a coffee, business people catching up for a meeting and a bite to eat, friends meeting up from all over the Wairarapa. Families enjoy the outdoor dining area, which has a playground. There is nothing pretentious about who we are and what we offer, we're simply a welcoming cafe passionate about creating great food and the most delicious coffee.
When deciding on a décor for your cafe, what was most important to you?
We get so many amazing comments about the décor of the cafe. We are great believers in trusting professionals in their jobs, namely Craig Turvey Interior Design, who did, from memory, did have to tell us to trust him on a number of occasions, actually. In the end we did and were so happy with the final result.
Who came up with the menu and what was the idea behind it?
Our menu has most of the classics, but our emphasis is really about doing the simple things well and then having one or two ingredients that make you sit up and take notice. So, for example, one of our really popular and often-commented-on dishes is our Clareville Salad, which has a lovely fresh orange vinaigrette dressing and is studded with salted caramel walnuts. It’s not until people chomp into those delicious beauties the dish comes into its own.
What is your food philosophy?
Our food philosophy is to create and serve food using natural ingredients as much as possible. All of our breads are made simply with water, salt and flour, with a little yeast thrown in a few recipes. Take our sourdough for example. Four simple, unassuming ingredients like flour, salt and water, come together and form a scraggy mess, then after a bit of kneading, fermenting and folding, becomes this amazing, silky dough. With further fermentation, gentle shaping and baking takes place, a phenomenal product with a slightly caramelised crust and a moist, spongy interior and amazing flavour is created – both healthy and nourishing. This is what gets us up in the morning. And to be able to serve that for brunch with local free range eggs… It’s a pleasure to be at work.
Is there one dish that is particularly popular with customers?
Our chef makes an amazing brown rice salad which is so unbelievably popular and versatile. It has all sorts of good stuff in it: currants, capsicum, pumpkin seeds. The brown rice gives it a fantastic nutty flavour. We serve it cold from our deli cabinet with a soy sauce dressing, and we also use it for catering and evening service, fried up and served with twice cooked pork belly with a sesame, lime, coriander and chilli drizzle.
Why do you think New Zealanders connect so much with café culture?
Kiwis are a social bunch of people. They like to get together and enjoy time together over a coffee and something yum to eat. They like to be welcomed and smiled at and feel like they belong. If you can get these things right, you’re in business.
Do you have any plans for Clareville Bakery or will you stick to your winning formula?
Our motto at The Clareville is, “Always strive to better your best!” We’re always looking to improve what we're doing. So that involves updating and evolving our processes, upskilling and training our team, and keeping an eye on national and international trends.
What has winning Best Rural Café meant for you?
It has solidified in our minds that our dream of what good food, coffee and service looks like is recognised officially by others. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll be the first person to admit that we don’t always get it right, but it is certainly our goal to get it right, and if things go amiss, to learn from it.
What’s the best part of your day?
Different parts of the day are enjoyed in different ways. Early mornings are great because it’s just the good guys who are working with me, the food we’re making with the stereo cranking. Then comes the opening hours and interacting with the customers who you get to know personally, which is great. And then at the very end, it’s always nice to ring the till off.
What do you find most satisfying about working in the business?
Our customers appreciating what we are passionate about. It’s a real blessing that our work is our hobby as well.
What do you think are the essential elements to creating a successful cafe?
Four things, all of equal importance: great food, fantastic coffee, genuine service, groovy premises.
See the full list of NZ Café of the Year Award 2016 winners at nzcafeoftheyear.co.nz.