Sue Sullivan runs possibly Martinborough’s the busiest espresso machine, remembering everyone’s preferences with great good humour. Which is surprising, as she starts work at 2am. Much later in the day, Susan McLeary explores the Sullivan family’s Kitchener Dairy. Sitting in the middle of Kitchener Street, locals know this is the heart of Martinborough.
It’s a true family business. Bruce and Sue Sullivan bought the dairy/post office 20 years ago, retained the name, replaced the uneconomic post office with a family-friendly space and built on their hospitality experience in Wellington.
Their daughters Jasmin and Christy-Anne joined them in 2014, and during school holidays a delightful grand-daughter or two helps to make change and learn the family business by osmosis.
This is not any old café. Christy-Anne has an impeccable hospitality background: she trained as a chef at top Wellington restaurant Logan Brown, and managed the smooth flow of dishes from a tiny, busy kitchen to diners.
The café opens at 2.30am, mostly for working people with early starts themselves: logging crews, commercial fishermen, truck drivers. They are busiest from 2.30–7.30am, with another peak around 10am for shop and office people, and closed by 2pm.
“We’re very much a ‘smoko food’ place, where working people can grab and go. Christy persuaded us to offer short-order breakfasts, and we are amazed how well that’s gone,” said Bruce.
“Christy is our true food person,” he explained. “She instituted our Food Control Plan, the first around here, and is very particular about temperature control, food rotation and labelling systems. We call her bossy; she says she’s organised.
“We’re very proud to have easily passed all our eight food safety audits, and that the Council sometimes suggests other cafes come in to see our health and safety systems. I think if a café owner is nervous about being inspected, they’re not doing their job properly.”
You’d think a family up before dawn and on their feet all day would rest up at weekends. But no, the Sullivans are off walking. Nine hours from Ocean Beach to Wellington, often involving splashing through a river and over rocks, is a favourite “beautiful walk”.
Another favourite is Bruce’s old stamping ground, the new Paekakariki Escarpment Track. “It’s very narrow, and high on the hill so you have to be careful, but the views are stunning right along the Kapiti Coast,” Bruce enthuses.
Despite atrociously muddy, slippery conditions Sue came in second in the” fantastic” inaugural Tora Challenge 18km walk, in under three hours.
Prominently placed in the café is The Table of Great Knowledge, a local bastion of community spirit. Jasmin says “It’s not true that visitors who accidentally sit there are in trouble: 90% of the time the regulars are welcoming!
“Great issues of the day – and Dominion Post quizzes – are discussed around that table. We laughed when Ngawi fishing boat charter operator Bill Jago presented us with the Table of Great Knowledge sign now hanging proudly on the wall. It’s quietly matched by the Table of Infinite Beauty sign donated for the family area.”
Not content with working 12 hours a day, the Sullivans are a driving force behind many local community support organisations, from rescue cats to troubled youths.
They raise funds for the Martinborough Youth Trust, sending youngsters and teens on Discovery Foundation courses to help discover their potential; and Bridging the Gap, an intensive Hutt Valley programme for pre-college kids to build confidence and the ability to communicate effectively. They see these skills as vital for the kids, and the community.
“We see great results. The kids love learning, with top people who give their time freely, and they stay in touch,” Sue explains.
“It’s a good community, we love being part of it.” That says it all, really.