TAKING over Woodlands café wasn’t exactly a piece of cake for Stu Robinson. The new leaseholder took charge in January but, at the time, he tells Annette Taylor, he was in hospital.
“It hit me out of the blue. There were no signs leading up to it, one day I was fine, the next minute I was in hospital with pancreatitis. So in actual fact, my staff took over for me and they were just fantastic. I was in hospital for two weeks, they just stepped up and did what had to be done.”
It has now been six months and he is thoroughly enjoying being at Woodlands café. “It’s beautiful here. I enjoy the peace, and can think about things.”
Before he got into hospitality, he was a banker. “I went into banking after school, at age 18, and stayed until I hit that magic age of late 30s, early 40s. My wife said it was a life crisis, instead of buying a flash car I decided I wanted to do something different, totally out of my comfort zone.”
Living in Rototuna, Stu divides his time between the two. “It’s quicker to get to Woodlands, and I think of it as my stress-free place because it’s so peaceful.”
Raised in Puriri, between Thames and Paeroa, he is fond of Gordonton. “It’s a small community, in many ways very similar to what I was used to. You can talk to people, have actual conversations. The locals have been wonderful; they’re a very friendly bunch here.”
And, coming from a farm, he appreciates fine food. “I’ve always been into food. Keep it simple, keep it fresh, old fashioned basics. I spent a lot of time in good cafes when I was banking, and knew what I liked.”
When he changed careers, Stu started in the kitchen. “Then I went out front of house. It felt more important to get feedback from customers, because I was new. And I still believe that. It’s all about what the customers want.”
Seven years ago he married his wife Shona at the Woodlands historic homestead, and remembers the café as a buzz of activity. “There were kids running around on the oval, it was just lovely. This is a great community place, people can come and relax.”
Former owner Judy Cole did a grand job, he says. “Look at what she’s done with the alterations and renovations – just amazing. But she deserves to be off on her trips now, and to enjoy life.”
As for Stu, there are things to ponder about what is next for Woodlands cafe. “Maybe we’ll incorporate a little bit of Fresca or go in a different direction – but we’ll be concentrating on the basics of good food and service.”
There are plans to put in a barbeque area and to cater for small weddings. “And we’re on the lookout for outdoor toys and equipment for the kids to play with. So if any mums or dads have some pre-loved toys they want to share, that would be great. We’ll give them a free coffee, too.”
Whatever happens, he’ll be listening to his customers. “That is probably my secret to Fresco’s success. I put up a big board asking people to text me with suggestions and comments – it’s a way I can solve problems and improve. It was one of the first things I did at Woodlands, too. It helps stay in touch with what matters.
“When you go to a café, you want it to be good, up to a certain standard. I’d like to go beyond people’s expectations.”
Welcome to Gordonton, Stu. And here’s to summer dining!
- Woodlands Cafe is open 7 days from 9am. Phone 07 824 3985 or email Stu here.