Three words to describe The Village Cafe? Healthy Ambitious Food.

Māngere East is a tight-knit community, serviced by a few well-loved fast-food restaurants that monopolise the food options for a few kilometres in every direction. There has been talk for decades about the need for a healthy cafe in the area, and Launchpad Work is extremely lucky to be able to support a team of coffee-loving community advocates who are turning this talk into action: Please meet The Village Cafe, from the Māngere East ACCESS Trust.

The team behind The Village Cafe are Hone Fowler, Belinda Fowler and Maria Hunt, all ambitious Māngere East locals who are committed to disrupting the local food environment in their community. And considering their experience, we think this could be the right team to achieve this. Hone studied community development, with a focus on population health, and is currently the manager of the Māngere East Community Centre. Belinda is the designer of 275 Times, a local newspaper that concentrates on positive stories going on in the area. Maria, who grew up in Māngere East, is a trained chef and the face of the cafe – you’ll see her friendly smile behind the coffee machine, serving delicious Eighthirty coffee, with a menu that is hearty, healthy, tasty and cost-effective.

Their first goal is to create healthy options. When KFC is the most accessible food option for kilometres in every direction, people form habits in response to what’s available. Fast food is cheap and convenient for lower-income neighbourhoods, but The Village Cafe plans to disrupt this unhealthy cycle by providing traditional cost-effective options that are healthy, hearty and delicious. And so far, it’s paying off, with locals coming across the cafe for the first time often telling the team, “Finally! At last something healthy”, while those with food intolerances are relishing the gluten/dairy-free options that are available.

Their second goal is to create a space for local people to hang out, study, chat and meet up. This leads into accessing other opportunities they may not otherwise know about, and builds social cohesion. Necessary things in fostering a healthier, happier, safer community – both mentally and physically.

Their third goal, to foster employment pathways for people, is something they hope to expand as their location becomes more permanent, although already they’ve had the chance to create opportunities for a number of individuals. One of their workers is a young mother, recently moved back to Māngere from Australia. As a solo mum, she found it hard to find employment that fitted around her busy schedule, and felt isolated from the local networks. The Village Cafe has given her an opportunity to put her former barista training into practice and engage with the local community in the process.

And what’s their end goal? Their big dream is to get Māngere recognised as a ‘Blue Zone’ – one of the regions around the world where people live to a ripe old age and have great well-being. Hone, Belinda and Maria would like to create a model that can be replicated in other areas, to transform South Auckland into a well-connected community where healthy food options are the norm – as they were before fast food became pervasive. Maria hopes to eventually launch a similar cafe concept with her father in Samoa, but they know the best way to achieve these goals is to start with the community that they know best.

At the beginning of Launchpad Work, their cafe was still just a dream – albeit one they had put a considerable amount of time and thought into. Now, only a couple of months later, we are really proud to say they have officially launched their first version of the cafe! We say first version because it is currently run out of a mobile trailer, which is proving to be a great way to test and iterate various aspects of the business, especially location! The long term goal is to find a permanent premises, and considering how quickly they got the trailer up and running, we have no doubt they’ll soon tick this off too.

The Village Cafe is causing a stir in Māngere East, and while it may take a while for the community’s attitudes to change – big things begin with a small step. We are thrilled to have them on board with Launchpad Work and support them as they reach these goals. You’ll find them parked in front of the Metro Theatre next to the Māngere East Library, on Thursdays and Fridays and at local events on Saturdays. Stop by and have a chat!