It's been a year and a half since my last blog. Eighteen months that have been nothing short of life changing. In what ways those changes will manifest I'm not entirely sure yet, but I have no doubt at the very least, this will be a time we'll look back on and share countless stories, laughs, and tears over.
When we came to this quieter, sunnier part of the country we knew we were searching for that magical 'work / life balance'. But as we're just knocking on mid-life, we also came with some dreams and ambitions. We were also under no illusion there would be some serious hard-graft required to see those dreams come alive. It was all about celebrating this corner of the world, sharing it with others and merging a passion for hospitality, travel and food, to eventually finance a life that we love waking up to and diving into everyday.
That's still the plan, but as we navigate life's endurance course we're abruptly reminded that if we're headed down the wrong track, there are equal amounts of guts and courage required to turn back and reset, as there was to take the road less traveled in the first place.
It's the recently opened (and subsequently closed) Down the Road Local Eatery & Deli that I'm referring to. It's the food dream part of our plan, which after countless conversations about what form this may have taken, from food truck to restaurant in a refurbished warehouse - ended up almost breaking us.
Almost broken, but thankfully not quite. We're still here, our family unit is strong and day by day, we're now regaining the strength and balance in our lives to once again see the joy and beauty in each day.
While the blow-by-blow, gritty details of exactly what went awry with the venture are probably best left for a chat over a cuppa sometime, it finally feels OK to at least share a few thoughts...
THE NORTHLAND FOOD JOURNEY IS VIBRANT & WIDE OPEN
In our first few years here we were blown away by the deliciousness of this beautiful region. Whether from the climate that impresses such luscious flavour into raw ingredients, or the masterful makers with passion for their produce who create products that win awards on a world stage. The food here is fantastic - but you often have to have a sixth sense to hunt it out.
We now know that the best of the best can only reliably be found at growers and farmers markets that pop up once a week or monthly around the region. Often without much of a public presence, you just have to be 'in the know' to get your hands on the freshest, ripest produce or lovingly crafted artisan products. It was for this reason that we made a commitment to providing a 'front door' for Northland's food.
The Eatery with menus reflecting the seasons harvest at it's very best, served to the table by a team that really care, sharing a smile and a story about their version of Northland on a plate. And a Deli offering fresh food on the go and a growing range of strictly Northland-made products, to take home and inspire flavours at the family table.
It was real, however short-lived and the bounty on offer from the outset totally exceeded our expectations. We knew our focus would be on food but were so excited to find that Northland produces such quality and everything from award-winning coffee, tea, milk and even fine artisan water. To an inspiring 100% local wine list, craft beer, fresh juice and some of the country's finest Kombucha. Then when it did come to food, we only scratched the surface. Early morning Saturday markets filled the chiller with incredible fresh-picked produce, and enterprising producers with endless passion for their craft, constantly inspired with new flavours and innovations. It was a powerful experience with an endless horizon.
We learnt is that there's plenty of room for this concept, there's more than enough local product to keep filling the shelves and then there are the people, who told us everyday without fail, that this is something they really want.
A LOVE OF HOSPITALITY IS IN THE BLOOD
It can be a curse because the industry as many will know, is competitive, fickle, grueling and requires a fine science if you want to stay true to your passion and make a decent living. I'm no stranger to hospo and very aware that there are so many boxes to tick if a food venture is going to succeed by our 'dream' standards.
While I have skills and experience in many other areas, it's hospitality that keeps nagging at me like a toddler yanking on my apron strings, weighing me down until I confront it. So it's something that I'm learning to embrace, even after the most stressful venture of my life, I still can't say I'm done with it.
It's something about the most basic of human pleasures. Food is obviously our life force but it also brings us together and deserves to be a joyful and celebrated experience. Thankfully there is now a movement to eat more consciously, to know about the provenance of our food. It connects us with our environment and with each other. These are things I continue to feel extremely passionate about.
WE WENT BIG AND WE CAME HOME
'Life is either a daring adventure or nothing'
'Go out on a limb, that's where the fruit is'
'If you risk nothing, then you risk everything'
'You'll always miss 100% of shots you don't take'
There are so many inspirational quotes about taking risks. On the scale of things, we knew we were jumping into risk-infested waters, and whilst we had to make the hard call and close the door so early in the piece, the experience we're taking with us is still accumulating. I'm not sure it's exceeding the cost yet, but I'm optimistic!
In the hardest of times over the last year, when the vice grip was at it's tightest, we were shown some incredible support. By loved ones and family for sure, but also fellow entrepreneurs. The stories of risks taken, the toll of stress on health and finance, the blind faith required in our own abilities, the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. What we now know is that there is always a more crushing situation out there to compare and get perspective, that every step of the way we always have a choice, no matter how trapped we may sometimes feel.
I remember a conversation I had with a supplier one day, I called because we owed money and I needed to let her know where we were at. She was understanding and could clearly hear the strain in my voice. We talked about the various pressures of business and agreed that it would obviously be much simpler to get a job and settle for that. "But we won't because that's not the kind of people we are", she noted. "We're entrepreneurs and we're wired to fulfill a greater purpose in our lives, whatever form that takes. Reaching for this is ultimately what brings us joy, it's just who we are". So very true.
While our venture was by no means the biggest, we risked everything that we had for it. The decision to close the door on it at the time we did was to make sure, after all was said and done, we still had a home to come to. And its from here now, that we can take time to reflect and learn. To pick ourselves up, dust off and start down another path. The direction of which is not certain yet but at least we have a great place to re-start from.