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New Ōtangarei café serving up healthy alternatives

Updated: Apr 26, 2022

A new café and takeaway shop has opened in Ōtangarei, focused on providing healthy kai options to the community.

"I just noticed how bad the food was. There were no healthy choices for our whānau. I decided to change that and offer our whānau some healthy and quality kai," said Emily King-Hepi, who spearheaded the idea for Kai Ora Iwi..

Kai Ora Iwi staff Emily Hepi (left), Ellen King-Hepi, Destini Castle, Manawaa Hepi and Mary Samson.

King-Hepi previously helped to run a takeaway bar on Jack St in Ōtangarei but says the building was not fit for purpose and the store needed to move to a different premise. When a local takeaway came up for lease, Emily and her team decided to do something about changing the community's menu.

"I needed to create something that would lift the community up, because the only things on offer here in OT [Ōtangarei] were just takeaways and fried stuff," said King-Hepi.

Funding from Northland District Health Board subsidised the lease, and $5000 from the Kai Ora Fund contributed to the lease and planting of five 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.

King-Hepi says her passion for the project developed from not having access to good quality, nutritious food locally in Ōtangarei.

"We decided to get one of these businesses and change the way our whānau eat. 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," said King-Hepi.

Transforming the premises wasn't easy after King-Hepi secured the lease in May 2020, with the old takeaways requiring 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.

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

"Our community are 100 per cent behind us. They're awesome. They can't wait for us to reopen," King-Hepi said.

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