Cafe’s mission food for thought
DAILY GRIND Feeding Auckland’s homeless has changed how Lee Strydom sees the world. The Merge Cafe manager tells Jess Etheridge why he now thinks twice before judging a book by its cover.
Every Thursday Lee Strydom comes home to a roast meal.
‘‘We have pork belly, roast chicken. We always change it, mix it up because it will get boring if you come home and have the same thing every day.’’
Home is his workplace – Lifewise’s Merge Cafe on Karangahape Rd. The establishment has just celebrated four years of feeding Auckland’s homeless.
‘‘It’s more than just a regular cafe,’’ the 26-year-old manager says.
‘‘I build really good relationships with my customers because they’re more regular than just one-off customers. So I kind of like that aspect of being a home away from home.’’
Cafe staff cook two kinds of meals each day, five days a week, for the hundreds of customers who pop in.
‘‘Fridays are exciting because we have a barbecue outside, so that’s pretty cool,’’ Strydom says. ‘‘But in the winter it’s fish and chips on Fridays.
‘‘Every other day is just $4 a meal and they get veges, a starch and a protein. ’’
‘‘Some of them come from very far, especially the older ones. So they come on our special days like Thursday for a roast. I reckon about more than 100 people would come on Thursdays, then just under that for every other day.’’
Strydom says in the year he has worked at Merge his own views on what homelessness is have changed.
‘‘I think I was very ignorant at first, thinking: ‘People are just homeless because they’re lazy’.
‘‘But then I worked here and it was such an eye-opener. I think it’s so important because each person is so individual, they have their own reasons of where they are today.’’
For those new to the cafe it can be a shock, Strydom says.
‘‘It is unfortunate a lot of our customers – maybe I shouldn’t say this – but they’re not as wellgroomed as most of us think one should be.’’
The Devonport resident has worked in hospitality since he was 14. ‘‘I just love the customer service aspect of it,’’ he says. ‘‘Knowing that all the customers are happy really made me feel good – making someone else feel good. So I guess I’ve always craved that side of hospitality, and it’s a great job.’’
Doing good: Lee Strydom helps feed the city’s homeless.