Keeping it in the family at Willow Glen

Photo of Willow Glen
OPENING DAY: Kylie Lundy, left, and her parents Jeff and Karen Neal who were from Whitianga.


It’s just over four months since Willow Glen opened its doors for business on a cold May morning. Annette Taylor shares a cup of tea and finds out how it’s gone.

“The first week was slow, and we thought, okay this is what it will be like – then a few stories were written and word got out – and it’s been great. We’ve been way busier than we thought we’d be, especially over winter when it’s hard to get people out,” says Karen Neal who runs Willow Glen with husband Jeff, and daughter Kylie Lundy and her husband Richard. Karen’s sister Lyn from Te Aroha also helps to run the kitchen.

They’ve just had their busiest weekend since opening at 7am on 18 May. At the time Jeff said the feedback was great, locally and Waikato-wide. “Everyone is delighted to see the place reopening, and are very cheerful and supportive.”

That trend has continued, with regulars dropping by, groups making a trip of it and folk stopping on their way to the airport, says Karen.

“One neighbour comes over every morning for coffee, and another has made a little gap in the fence and walks through the garden with their grandson.  One gentleman from Cambridge books, and comes with his wife every week.

Mother and daughter team, Karen and Kylie, relax for just a second...
Mother and daughter team, Karen and Kylie, relax for just a second…

“And on Tuesdays we have the girls – a group of parents who drop their children off at school and then come in for coffee. We get a similar group on Wednesdays.”

Everything is homemade, she says.  “The cakes, scones, slices and savoury items. People like that. We’ll come out and chat with them, as well. It’s a nice ambience and they keep coming back.”

The property, on Gordonton Rd, used to be owned by TV personality Eion Scarrow who designed and planted the garden but she says previous owners Keith and Hilton really put Willow Glen on the map.

“They turned it into a wedding venue and it really took off. They came and saw us the other day, and I think they liked what we’re doing. After nine years, Keith’s son ran it for a year, then it was sold to a new owner who had it for five years, but for the last two years it’s been closed.”

It took a lot of work to get it operational, she says. “It had been seriously neglected, and I spent three solid weeks in the kitchen alone. We’ve painted, wall-papered, re-floored, scrubbed and cleaned. It’s looking good now. The kitchen had great bones and is wonderful to cook in.”

Karen and Jeff were from Whitianga, and are enjoying life in Gordonton. “It’s lovely here. Richard, our son-in-law, farms at Tauhei so knows many of the people in the district, but it’s a new experience for us. Everyone has been welcoming and friendly.”

Working as a family really works for the team, too. “We all have our own tasks and keep to them.”

This extends to her six-year-old grandson Cooper who comes in and helps stir the scone mix. “He loves cooking; we’ve cooked together since he was 18 months. It’s a family thing.”

Karen  has been in the food industry for many years and says it was a bit daunting for the others to begin with. “But they’re fine now and loving it.”

She and Jeff live on-site, walking to work takes seconds, she says.

The cafe has been visited by the Red hatters twice now, two different fun-loving groups from Hamilton. “They are 50-plus, and doing everything that 50-year pluses shouldn’t be doing. Wearing bright red hats, clashing colours and lots of bling. One lot took over a table and decorated it – they’re a lot of fun. And we had the daffodil ladies on Daffodil Day – the community is coming together and using the space which is great to see.”

Daughter Kylie, who was a hairdresser, is on front of house . “I’ve worked with people before so it’s not too different, and sometimes I’ll do a little cooking. I really enjoy it here, we’re all on the same page.”

There are still some changes to be made (“We’re putting in some sound proofing”) but they’re looking forward to summer.

“A new menu, we might open late on Friday, people can enjoy dining on the deck. And we’ll be looking for two more staff for front of house,” says Karen.

In the meantime there’s a very special birthday coming up – “Richard’s grandmother turns 95 soon and wants to have it here.  It will be a big party, she used to farm at Rototuna, where the New World is now.  We’ll decorate the place and make a fuss of her.”

  • Willow Glen is open seven days a week, from 8am to 4pm. Phone 824 3691 or email them here.
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