“Serendipitous” is the word Louise Ballinger used to describe how she and her partner Russell Cameron came to take over the reins of popular Greytown café Two Short Whites.
Amid the chaos of London’s Mayfair district, Kiwi Russell Cameron’s restaurant, Truc Vert, was once described as “an oasis in the heart of the city.”
It was music to the ears of the classically trained chef, who grew up in Woodville, as at that time (in the early 2000s) Russell wanted a restaurant to emulate the Paris bistros, where people could buy fresh produce in store as well as enjoy freshly cooked seasonal cuisine.
“I loved France and the produce there is so important. Using fresh is integral to their lifestyle. At the time, this style of bistro featuring an in-house marche was a new concept in London and it became a really popular local place. (Truc Vert) was rustic, with lots of wood and on a Sunday, people would come in relax and take their time reading the paper whilst enjoying our food which was French provincial style,” recalls Russell, who completed his apprenticeship at the Park Royal in Wellington before working in Melbourne, then London, for several years.
During his time running Truc Vert, Russell met his partner Louise Ballinger, who is originally from Bath in Somerset. Louise began her earlier career in hospitality then strayed into other avenues before returning to her roots to manage the restaurant and work alongside Russell. The couple did this successfully for seven years then with a growing family, 9/11 and congestion charges in London everything began to change.
“Everything changed around us … we really had to re-think our offering and in the end we decided we didn’t want to remain there,” says Russell.
Along with their two children, the couple returned to visit friends and family in New Zealand in 2015 and began to seriously consider the notion of “returning home”. But they also had a few other options on the table.
“It was like a series of lucky moments came together and pushed us back to New Zealand,” says Louise. “We had several choices at the time about whether to remain in the UK, live and work in Africa or come here, but everything seemed to drive us here, it was very serendipitous. I believe in fate,” she says.
Serendipity played its hand again when upon their return to New Zealand, popular Greytown café 2 Short Whites located in the Hub on Main Street and established by sisters Sue Wright and Nicky Brindle, was on the market.
“We walked inside and loved it. We loved the look of it, the feel of it with the wide space and light and completely agreed with their food philosophy of using the best, local seasonal ingredients. The timing was incredible!” says Louise.
The couple bought the business in June and say it’s been a whirlwind ever since.
“The kids have started a new school, we’ve moved into a new house and are now settled into the business with the help of existing staff. It’s been busy but so exciting.”
Russell plans to make small changes to the existing brunch menu, and expand the menu offering to a bistro style lunch and opening for dinner. In addition they will host private functions and once settled in will look to host cooking classes.
“We feel we’ve only scratched the surface of what we can do and what we are capable of. We are looking forward to developing our evening menu further offering casual dining based on the philosophies of food and good service that we love,” they say.