Store evolv­ing with the com­mu­nity

Nelson Mail - - LEISURE - NEIL HODG­SON Taste Of Nel­son

It isn’t of­ten I come across busi­ness own­ers as ex­cited and pos­i­tive about their busi­ness as Pat and Phillipa Ash­ton at The Pantry Door in Stoke, op­po­site the new Green­mead­ows cen­tre.

The first im­pres­sion I got when I walked in was of a busi­ness buzzing with pos­i­tiv­ity and when I sat down to chat with Pat and Phillipa it didn’t take long to re­alise these peo­ple are ab­so­lutely pas­sion­ate about food and peo­ple; every­one is treated like a friend when they shop at The Pantry Door.

The cou­ple have only owned the busi­ness for a year but the sig­nage says it was es­tab­lished in 1975 so that was my ob­vi­ous first ques­tion, what is that all about?

Pat laughed and said, ‘‘It started in 1975 with a blind date out­side the Stoke fire sta­tion and af­ter bring­ing up eight chil­dren on a small farm in Mo­tupiko we found our­selves liv­ing back in Stoke. Some of the kids sug­gested we in­clude 1975 in our brand, a fun idea that con­nects the cir­cles and sea­sons in life.’’

As I said, this cou­ple love food and peo­ple and are pas­sion­ate about bring­ing to the store an at­mos­phere that re­flects the feel­ing of a farm­house kitchen. There’s a wood­stove burn­ing and a big ta­ble at the cen­tre, like the hub of the home, where food is pre­pared and cooked us­ing what you had in your hands, sto­ries are told, meals are eaten and life is lived to the full.

The Pantry Door stocks a grow­ing range of lo­cal and im­ported ar­ti­san prod­ucts with an em­pha­sis on re­fill­ing and pack­age-free shop­ping, in line with the cur­rent, yet old-style trend in food shop­ping.

Many cus­tomers bring their own con­tain­ers in to fill di­rectly from the store and they have a three-tiered price struc­ture for cus­tomers who like to buy in bulk.

Their rural back­ground, along with bring­ing up a fam­ily in the coun­try, pro­vided a life­style of hands-on learn­ing the art of liv­ing a life that fully em­braced cook­ing and prepar­ing food from scratch, milk­ing a cow, mak­ing but­ter, rais­ing and butcher­ing their own meat, pre­serv­ing and freez­ing hun­dreds of jars of pro­duce and grow­ing many of their own veg­eta­bles and fruits.

Own­ing a re­tail busi­ness is new to Pat and Phillipa who have spent the past 12 months de­vel­op­ing, build­ing and cre­at­ing a store that has many facets and they have been en­cour­aged by the sup­port of lo­cals who of­ten say that Stoke needs this kind of store.

Pat says, ‘‘The way we have gone about open­ing the store is quite un­usual. Rather than clos­ing the doors when we took over, fully re­fur­bish­ing it and open­ing a fully func­tional, bright sparkling branded store, it is evolv­ing as we go.

‘‘The jour­ney is not fin­ished, lo­cals like it, they see reg­u­lar changes and feel like they are part of our jour­ney.

‘‘Even when it comes to dec­o­ra­tion we have had lo­cal in­put. A lady brought in large jars of pre­serves with a real story be­hind them. She asked us if we would like to look af­ter them for her, so they have be­come part of the store, the same with a set of old gro­cery scales that some­one had tucked away.

‘‘Peo­ple are get­ting in­volved with what is hap­pen­ing. It’s part of build­ing a com­mu­nity and a sense of well­be­ing for every­one, we love it.’’

What is go­ing to be the cafe, which has its main en­trance off Straw­bridge Square carpark, is evolv­ing. ‘‘Cur­rently we have cof­fee and real fruit ice cream.’’

In keep­ing with us­ing qual­ity prod­ucts sourced as lo­cally as pos­si­ble The Pantry Door uses or­ganic, fair trade and lo­cally roasted Kush cof­fee and Wan­gapeka Fam­ily Dairy farm milk.

‘‘One of our daugh­ters, Mandy, is a chef and nu­tri­tion­ist (find her on Face­book at Con­scious Nu­tri­tion and Health). She is de­vel­op­ing recipes and work­ing on nu­tri­tional info around the food that will be served in the cafe’’, says Phillipa.

Like other ar­eas in the store the cafe will not al­ways fit the con­ven­tions of pre-con­ceived cafe mod­els. ‘‘Our kids have some­times told us, ‘Dad and Mum, you’ve never done any­thing con­ven­tion­ally so why start now’.’’

With the help of some friends, Pat en­gi­neered a milk dis­pens­ing sys­tem for in­store pur­chas­ing of Wan­gapeka milk, where peo­ple bring their own con­tain­ers in to re­fill with beau­ti­ful, creamy, A2, lightly pas­teurised milk, fresh from the farm.

They have re­cently added Wan­gapeka ke­fir to the range of bulk food avail­able for re­fill­ing along with Tas­man Bay cold pressed, ex­tra vir­gin olive oil, Can­ter­bury grown non-GE cold­pressed rape­seed oil, or­ganic co­conut oils, tahini, al­mond but­ter and mo­lasses. Eco Store prod­ucts are soon to be added to the bulk re­fillery list.

‘‘In­tegrity around the source of prod­ucts is es­pe­cially im­por­tant to us and our cus­tomers’’ says Phillipa, ‘‘peo­ple to­day are in­formed, and for good rea­son many have con­cerns about where and how some of their food is pro­cessed.

‘‘Buy­ing food in­volves a lot of trust in a com­pet­i­tive world, and we ac­knowl­edge that, and choose to be trans­par­ent.

‘‘In­ter­net and con­glom­er­ate trad­ing has dif­fi­culty build­ing that level of per­sonal re­la­tion­ship with its cus­tomers, pro­vid­ing us an op­por­tu­nity and point of dif­fer­ence in the mar­ket­place.

‘‘We work with the refugee com­mu­nity and peo­ple from Red Cross who are re­set­tling refugees in the area. We are sourc­ing prod­ucts from their home coun­tries. These prod­ucts of­fer the sense of home and com­fort as they get es­tab­lished in a new and foreign coun­try.

‘‘Nu­tri­tional health and men­tal well­be­ing are the foun­da­tional vi­sion of The Pantry Door. In re­cent times we have in­tro­duced in­store work­shops, bring­ing qual­i­fied peo­ple from a va­ri­ety of sources to help with ed­u­ca­tion in this area and we will be in­creas­ing our range of nat­u­ral health prod­ucts and ed­u­ca­tion.’’

Pat and Phillipa say ‘‘life is like a pie, when you eat a slice you no longer have a whole pie, nu­tri­tion and health are like a pie made up of pieces, all in­ter-con­nected and all es­sen­tial to well­ness.

‘‘For us it’s about lis­ten­ing to our cus­tomers and pro­vid­ing a shop­ping ex­pe­ri­ence that goes fur­ther than just pur­chas­ing an­other prod­uct,’’ says Pat, and I think many other busi­nesses could take a leaf out of this book.

So how would I de­scribe this lit­tle gem in Stoke? This is a store with a real com­mu­nity feel that re­minds me of the cor­ner store in the days be­fore su­per­mar­kets, days when the lo­cal cor­ner store was an es­sen­tial part of the com­mu­nity.

And my hint is to try one of their ice creams made with a shot of frozen cof­fee.

MARTIN DE RUYTER/NEL­SON MAIL

Ja­cob Ash­ton, left, Phillipa Ash­ton and Pat Ash­ton out­side The Pantry Door in Main Road, Stoke.

Ja­cob, Pat and Phillipa in the new cafe at The Pantry Door.

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