Mart­in­bor­ough’s Car­tel takes over

Wairarapa News - - FRONT PAGE - JACK BAR­LOW

In a con­verted garage on the edge of town, a group of food­ies are rolling out the taste of Mon­ter­rey in Mart­in­bor­ough.

The Car­tel Food Com­pany is carv­ing a rapidly grow­ing niche as New Zealand’s pre­em­i­nent frozen bur­rito mak­ers.

From scratch, they’re now sup­ply­ing 120 supermarkets around the coun­try, from In­ver­cargill to Kerik­eri.

They’ve re­cently moved into a big­ger site, em­ployed three staff, and are ex­pand­ing be­yond the con­fines of the su­per­mar­ket frozen food sec­tion.

It’s a rapid ex­pan­sion, given own­ers Melissa and Ja­son Philips be­gan the busi­ness from scratch in 2015. They sold their Welling­ton home and moved to Mart­in­bor­ough, set­ting up shop in the kitchen of a lo­cal cafe.

‘‘We started by rolling 200 bur­ri­tos a week,’’ Ja­son Philips said. ‘‘That was three years ago, and back then it took a whole day and four nights. Now we’re do­ing 2500 a week, and our goal is to do be­tween 5-10,000 a week by the end of the year.’’

The duo’s love of bur­ri­tos came from Ja­son’s child­hood in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, where bur­ri­tos are ubiq­ui­tous.

‘‘We wanted to do our own thing, and we saw the Mex­i­can cat­e­gory grow­ing on shelves here,’’ Philips said.

‘‘We spot­ted there was noth­ing in the chilled and frozen sec­tion.

‘‘We ini­tially thought about a bur­rito kit, but then we had an epiphany ... in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, frozen bur­ri­tos are the equiv­a­lent of mi­crowave pies. We’re food­ies, so we thought ‘let’s make a frozen bur­rito, but not a crap one.’’’

The bur­ri­tos were quickly picked up by lo­cal dis­trib­u­tors be­fore spread­ing re­gion, then na­tion, wide.

They’ve be­gun ex­pand­ing be­yond the frozen aisle of supermarkets, and are now sell­ing to sev­eral ski fields - Coronet Peak, the Re­mark­ables and Mount Hutt - in the South Is­land.

For all the growth, the bur­ri­tos are still made by hand. In the com­pany’s cosy food prep room, the em­ploy­ees por­tion the in­gre­di­ents and roll the bur­ri­tos them­selves.

‘‘Por­tion­ing is the most dif­fi­cult thing to do,’’ Ja­son Philips said.

‘‘The big­gest bur­rito man­u­fac­turer in the US makes around 20,000 a day, but they still hand roll them at the end. We want to get some­thing as close to homemade as pos­si­ble.’’

JACK BAR­LOW/STUFF

Car­tel Food Com­pany own­ers Melissa and Ja­son Philips

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