Changes afoot at Woodlands Cafe

Woodlands Cafe owners
A family affair: Ben, left, and Kate and Allan lurking in the background.  Photo:  Annette Taylor

Two weeks after taking over Woodlands Café Kate Wilson tells Number 8 Network’s Annette Taylor all is going well indeed.

There was the small matter of a burglary on their first-ever Sunday. “But you have to look forward, onwards and upwards,” says Kate.

The thieves struck on their first Sunday and made away with a chiller-full of food – bacon, eggs, tomatoes, milk.

“It was as if they wanted a big breakfast. At the time, because we were getting to grips with everything else, it was just another thing to deal with.  You do what you have to – my husband Allan raced in to town and bought new supplies, and improved the security.”

Today she has a coachload of 47 from Auckland due at 10am for morning tea and regulars dropping by – “we’re learning the flow of everything; how the kitchen works, how it relates to front of house and understanding the tide of people coming in so we can plan and deliver accordingly.”

This is the couple’s first venture into the hospitality industry. Kate was a managing partner at law firm James & Wells and Allan an engineer, designing sensors for the animal health industry. Both have a background in physics.  She says it’s a matter of getting systems in place and making positive changes and the feedback thus far has been positive.

“Local mums come by on Friday afternoons, after school and we close at 3.30. That could have been difficult, because we don’t know how many would come, and we need to be doing the dishes and mopping up for the next day. We’ve worked out that they’ll let us know how many are coming, roughly, and we’ll use disposables, so there won’t be any dishes. That way they can stay here quite happily and for some time, while we do our normal clean-up.”

They came to Woodlands Café through a mix of reasons. “We had both reached the peak of our careers, and I don’t like being comfortable. We were empty nesters – our oldest daughter had gone to uni and our son was in Australia. We wanted a project we could do together, and we both love food. Friends have called us mad, which we are, but they understand that this is a great project and we have complementary skills.”

Their interest in food started once they married. “Allan and I were technicians at Ruakura and we were so poor we had to get our meat from the experimental abattoir. So we had these lumps of meat and didn’t know what they were and had to find out how to cook them!”

Kate has since published a cookbook and appeared (briefly) on MasterChef. “We enjoy cooking a lot, and eating. That was part of the driver to come here.”

This passion has been passed on to son Ben, who is a chef and has recently returned from Australia. In fact, he’s now working for them and is responsible for the almond custard croissants in the cabinet.

“They are utterly delicious. We were very careful,  saying he was welcome to join us, but we weren’t dependent on him. We didn’t want to compel him – when secretly we did! It’s neat having him on board.”

Ben was trained at Wintec, worked in a café in Australia and several in New Zealand.  To complete the set-up, daughter Rebecca will spend her holidays working at the cafe as well.

“So it’s quite an exciting time, and we’ll be updating the menu constantly. The bottomline for us is if anyone thinks we can improve our offerings, we’d like to know. Then repeat visitors will hopefully notice improvements each time.”

Head chef Tracey Simpson and chefs Ann-Marie Fielding and Ben all work collaboratively and it is proving an enjoyable process.

But old favourites will be retained, with a ‘wow’ factor added in. They also want to put in a bar or drinks station, and are looking at bringing in craft brewers.  “We’re also starting to know the local community and want to be supportive.

“Woodlands is such a beautiful place, we’re just making certain we continually improve, to make it even better, and to encourage more people to come here. Check us out around Easter, when we launch our new menu. And keep an eye on the Ploughman’s Platter – we’ve got plans for that!”

  • Woodlands Cafe is open seven days from 9am.  They will be closed on Good Friday.  Visit them on Facebook here or phone 07 824 3985.


CHANGE OF PLAN!  New Woodlands Cafe have given in and will be open all Easter including Good Friday, with Easter egg hunts for the kids.

They also won’t charge extra – “We decided long ago that we wouldn’t pass on the hefty surcharge imposed by current labour laws. We think families should be able to spend time together on holidays without being restricted by it. Please support this decision by visiting us.”  Good on you guys!

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Number 8 Network - a community website for the rural areas northeast of Hamilton, NZ, is run by Gordonton journalist/editor Annette Taylor.

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