New café brings healthy food to Otangarei

Tuesday 18 May 2021

Kia Ora Iwi - website.jpg

An innovative new café and takeaway, Kai Ora Iwi, is bringing affordable healthy and nutritious food to the Otangarei community.

Kai Ora Iwi is the brainchild of local osteopath Emily Hepi, working with a local chef and a group of supportive Otangarei friends.

Emily says her passion for the project developed from not having access to good quality, nutritious food locally in Otangarei.

“I needed to create something that would lift the community up, because the only things on offer here in OT [Otangarei] were just takeaways and fried stuff.”

When a local takeaway came up for lease, Emily and her team decided to do something about changing the community’s menu.   

“We decided to get one of these businesses and change the way our whānau eat. So the first thing we said was that fizzy drinks were going to go. And the next thing was to introduce really fresh, nutrient-dense, healthy kai with a nice bunch of flavours. That was our kaupapa.”

Instead of sugary drinks, Kai Ora Iwi offers affordable healthy smoothies, locally-made kombucha, freshly-squeezed juice, filtered water and coffee. And greasy takeaways have been replaced with vegan options, gluten-free treats, and fresh kai māra (food from the garden).

Funding from Northland District Health Board subsidised the lease, and $5,000 from the Kai Ora Fund contributed to the lease and four māra kai to grow vegetables. The māra kai will be for the community to share in planting and harvesting vegetables to teach whānau about sustainable living, and to act as a windbreak outside the shop.

Transforming the premises wasn’t easy after Emily secured the lease in May 2020, with the old takeaways needing a complete renovation.

Emily and her team held working bees with staff from Northland DHB’s Public Health Unit to strip, clean and repair the premises, and replaced the old interior with vibrant teal, red and white décor. To maintain high standards of hygiene, the new counters, fridges and all large equipment at Kai Ora Iwi are on wheels so they can be easily moved for cleaning.

A trial run from December 2020 to February 2021 showed Kai Ora Iwi would be a hit with the community.

“We opened for a couple of months to give people a taste of what we could offer, and the community loved it! Now we get people here every day asking when we’re going to open and telling us to hurry up!”

Offering healthier food options isn’t the only way Kai Ora Iwi aims to make a difference for the community.

“We employ local. We don’t care about your background or your convictions. We look at people who are trying to change their lives and do better for themselves,” Emily says.

Long term, Emily would like to see other low socio-economic communities throughout Northland benefit from the Kai Ora Iwi business model.

“We want to be able to offer full support to somebody who wants to open something similar. We want to give back to other communities that find themselves in the same situation as us. And the best thing you can do when you’ve got something good is to share it – share your knowledge, share your resources, share whatever it is that helped you to get where you got.”

Kai Ora Iwi is at 169 William Jones Drive, Otangarei.