The Kiwi deli that cares
In a world where kindness, collaboration and caring for your community is needed now more than ever, Angela Redfern and her Auckland deli is not only dishing out delicious food but is running her business on these guiding principles
WWalking into Angela Redfern’s iconic Ripe Deli in Auckland is like being given a giant culinary hug. Everything looks so nourishing, homemade and utterly delicious you feel like you’re at one of those potluck dinners where everyone is an amazing cook. Once you talk to Angela, you realise this is because it represents everything she and her team have held dear for the past 15 years: good healthy food, great service, environmental kindness and the desire to make people feel looked after. Deli owner and cookbook author Angela is mediashy, to say the least. And while she’s one of the pioneers of New Zealand’s healthy food revolution, she’s never shouted it from the rooftops. “I’m not very showy,” she says “I’m more of a behind-thescenes type, not great at public stuff.” But she has much to be proud of, and after 15 years in the business is sharing how she created such a well-loved Auckland brand, which has endured in a market that sees cafés, delis and restaurants open – and close – every week.
Angela has always loved cooking, and her mum is still an avid cook. One of her first memories is the two of them baking cakes together. “I still have a cute little book, which I wrote recipes in from as early as when I learned to write − judging by the style of the writing!” It was pretty handy to have this passion when she failed all her school exams in England (the family moved to the UK when she was two). “My father took me to the careers office when I was 18 and they said, ‘What are you interested in?’ and I said, ‘Cooking.’ That was how it all started, really.”
Angela went on to do a Higher National Diploma in Hospitality Management, and as luck would have it, was sent to The Savoy in London on her first placement. “I just loved it. That was back in the day when there were 80 male chefs – I watched a TV programme on it recently, it’s totally different now.”
Honing her skills
Angela thrived on the experience and loved being part of the camaraderie and high energy a large establishment like that brought. “All the orders were shouted loudly in French, and I loved watching that level of perfection. It was an incredible experience.”
After completing her culinary qualifications at City & Guilds, she went to work for British designer Tricia Guild, the founder and Creative Director of Designers Guild, running her staff cafe. Tricia loves healthy food so Angela found herself creating a nutritious style of cuisine, something that obviously influenced her later endeavours.
But her country of birth was calling her home
(her Kiwi mother had returned to New Zealand around 1990 when she separated from her father) and returned in her late 20s. “I worked at Zarbo
when I came back here in 2000, but always thought I wanted to run my own business. I found George’s Burger Bar just up the road here in Grey Lynn and that was for sale – $20,000, I think – and just went from there. I bought George’s, my mum had this display fridge from her market stand so she lent me that, friends came and painted it and another friend designed my logo. It was a real DIY job!”
The Ripe Deli journey had begun. “We opened and I remember just sitting outside all day waiting for customers to come,” she says, with a laugh. “But they eventually did, and then more, and it just took off. It got busier and busier over a period of a few months. It seems so long ago now.”
T‘It’s a no-brainer to do what we can do to help out’
hey eventually outgrew the space and they moved down the road to bigger premises. Ripe’s popularity continued to grow, pushing them to start catering for large and smaller groups too. “I’ve always wanted to sell the healthy, homemade food I would like to eat. For there to be somewhere to get a lovely salad or something else for lunch rather than McDonald’s. I never wanted to open a café and our seating outside has only been created to support our community and meet customer demand. I’ve always been focused on takeout food so people can get something nourishing and good quickly, to be able to eat it where they choose in their own time.”
Two cookbooks followed – with a third coming soon – now bibles for good salad recipes. And babies followed too. Angela now has two young children, Sam (6) and Jessica (4), and they represented a big turning point in her life. After working so hard and being so stressed for so long, she just wanted to be a stay-at-home mum and have some downtime for a while. “I am lucky to have such great staff, some of them have been here for the whole time, some for 10 years at least. My friend Lisa came in and managed the deli, and I stepped back for almost two years. Now I have Gemma, who started as a baker but can now run the whole show.”
Angela’s team is as passionate about the business as she is and they are more like family than staff. “We all respect each other, even if we don’t always agree. And now I have kids, I really understand the value of family. I always tell them to take time off if they want to see their child do something at school. It’s so important. They’re all really committed and I sometimes have to tell some of them to go home because they go so far over and above.”
And it’s not just her staff she cares deeply about, it’s also the planet. Angela has been a pioneer in sustainability and environmentally friendly practices in the café, using worm bins and compostable Ecoware packaging. The deli’s singleuse cups are compostable and they have an organic waste bin, which ensures the cups will get composted too. “As a takeaway business, I have always been conscious of our packaging, so we reward and offer money off when people bring in a KeepCup and we sell wonderful glass jars for salads that a number of customers have started to use, which we also reward.”
Community has also been a huge focus over the past 15 years and Angela donates almost weekly in the form of prizes and food hampers to schools and charities nearby. They’re also regular supporters of Mercy Hospice fundraisers and sell worm juice to save Ma¯ui dolphins from extinction. It’s obvious the business is focused on a lot more than just the bottom line.
“I think every business, no matter what size they are, need to be aware of what impact their activities have on the environment and then do what they can to try to reverse that. It’s true that lots of small changes can make a big difference. Community is so important too,” says Angela. “We look at it as being part of our family – you love them and they’ll love you back. We wouldn’t be here without our supportive community so we owe it to them to be a part of it. We’re so passionate and grateful, it’s a nobrainer to do what we can to help out and give back where possible. And once you’re considered part of the family, there’s no going back – they’ll support you forever!”
Now it’s time for new challenges. In October last year, Angela opened a satellite site in the new Giltrap Group showroom and will be opening a new cafe at Smales Farm business park on Auckland’s North Shore in mid-October. There’s also another of her famous cookbooks due for release this month, aptly named A Third Helping. It seems after building the business up from scratch, and stepping away to have kids, she’s ready for expansion with her committed team.
Despite her success in the tough hospitality and publishing scene, Angela remains down-toearth and seems to manage her life, business and staff on kindness, intuition and collaboration. Everything appears to have evolved organically, rather than from a five- or 10-year growth plan. The extra café opportunities have come from loyal customers who have frequented Ripe for years, while books and catering came about because of customer demand.
Maybe there’s something to learn from this for all business owners – produce something you love, be good to your staff and the planet, get involved with your local community, and business growth and great opportunities will happen naturally.
Since opening Ripe Deliin 2002, Angela has published two popular cookbooks filled with fresh, vibrant and seasonalrecipes. Her latest book,Ripe Recipes: A Third Helping, is she says, the best one yet and will hitshelves in October.