In this year’s Land Champions edition, we celebrate domestic and imported people in agriculture, from the Italian clan that owns a slice of North Otago wool production to the teacher rebooting ag education in the hort heartland if western Bay of Plenty.
As you drive 30 minutes east of Masterton on the road to Riversdale Beach, there is a sign that reads “Homewood Storeroom Café, next turn right 12 km”. It doesn’t mention that the last 5km are on a shingle road.
The Homewood Storeroom Café is in the middle of nowhere and there is no through traffic. And the cafe is flourishing.
It was a rundown church and is now a modern facility using local meat and vegetables, and employing local people.
The idea came from Paddy Tatham and his mother Jan. Paddy has a psychology and commerce degree but has retrained as a chef. Jan is an accountant and baker of renown. Paddy’s father, Andy, runs the 2440 hectare sheep and beef farm and mixes and mingles with the guests. Paddy’s partner, Alex McKenzie, is a speech therapist from Auckland who did additional training to competently run the front of house.
There are two chefs from Wellington who drive up, stay three nights and work four days.
When Paddy was working in Wellington he used to cook lamb for mates and they always appreciated it. He felt he could build a business cooking lamb.
With beef, the regulations make it too hard when you’re out in the country. Lamb is different. It comes off the farm, is processed in Wairarapa and cooked at the Storeroom. It is slow-roasted for 12 hours overnight and is delicious.
Paddy uses the bones, off-cuts, carrots, onions, celery, garlic, herbs and spices as liquid to roast the lamb.
The lamb hasn’t been docked or dipped. The early lambs weren’t drenched.
The original aim was to provide good food and a meeting place for locals, provide employment and use local products.
They quickly found that the challenges of doing business deep in the countryside are quite different from those in town. For a start, deliveries are extremely limited. They need to do their own shopping in Masterton. Water is an issue, as is recycling. They do their own laundry and handle regular power cuts.
Their emphasis is still on local. There is a local wine and craft beer menu that Andy is responsible for checking the quality of and making recommendations. The Homewood Station Garden is extensive and they use everything they grow.
Paddy’s brother Jonty is also a chef, and an award-winning chocolatier. He lives on the farm and produces artisan chocolate for the Storeroom. His chocolate brand, Lucid, is available throughout New Zealand, even at Parliament.
Jan said the locals have been “unbelievably supportive”.
“We rely on people coming back to the restaurant,” she said. “Our point of difference is good quality and good service. We use social media but there are no real advertising channels available for us.
“We have to be a destination in our own right. There aren’t any drive-bys.”
Lamb is a major feature at the Storeroom. You can get slow-cooked lamb tacos, homemade lamb pizzas, lamb shanks, sausages, chops and ribs and lamb baguettes. There are other dishes being developed.
Their shepherd’s breakfast of lamb chops, potato rosti, fried eggs and gravy has proved popular.
The challenge is to make everything fresh every day. Local suppliers are used whenever possible. Fernglen sheep milk and sheep milk products feature, as does the newly established Gibson egg farm. In addition they offer free space at the restaurant for local artisan craftspeople to display their products.
Diners have arrived on bikes, horses, helicopters and tractors. The Storeroom is establishing a helicopter pad and the Tathams want to establish farm walks followed by mountain-bike tracks. They want to establish a coastal cycleway.
There are coloured sheep by the restaurant that are very popular with customers, especially the younger variety.
There are many farm stays in the local area as well as on the property.
Going from a rundown church to a state-of-the art facility wasn’t easy or cheap, but they used local suppliers and tradespeople.
In just 12 months of operation the cafe has achieved much.
Going from an extensive sheep and beef property to a tourist attraction took a lot of work and it is just a start. It gives a whole new meaning to diversification because that is what the Tathams have achieved.