When good mates Sophie Moran and Olivia Taylor pooled their funds to buy a 1969 Zephyr caravan for conversion, they had ambition in spades “but no bloody clue what we were getting ourselves into,” laughs Sophie, as she begins her story.
“She had a couple of beds in her, a kitchen table and everything else and we had to get in there with crowbars and rip her apart. And then we discovered asbestos and a heap of other rubbish – so it’s been a little bit of a journey!”
But like all good journeys, along with the troughs come the peaks, and just a few months after finishing off their remodelling and launching The Huntess, the bookings are already flowing in.
For the last fortnight, the Zephyr (christened Janice by her new owners) has been stationed outside the Spiegeltent at the popular Harcourts Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival each day from midday to midnight, feeding hordes of hungry festivalphiles in between shows.
With about a dozen foods trucks already in operation around the Bay, dishing up a range of cuisines (of varying quality) the women knew they needed to find a genuine niche. The Huntess’ food is grunty, not glamorous – gastro-pub fare served from the caravan window.
“It’s gourmet junk food,” confirms Olivia. “We do a good burger that tastes amazing and doesn’t compromise on a single ingredient. Our dumplings are handmade, our fish is fresh, and we make our paua wantons from scratch. There’s nothing paleo, or keto, or whatever – but we definitely do gluten-free and veg/vegan options.”
Fun and flavour are the priorities – the loaded fries are jammed with chilli and bacon, we try the beef burger and find the patty is perfectly seared, beautifully blush inside, with a slab of cheese and huge dollops of caramelised onions, and the prawn and pork dumplings are juicy and plump.
Game is also a focus, with their prime venison and tender beef sourced locally from Hastings outfit, Beard Brothers.
But Sophie is quick to point out that The Huntess is no one-trick pony. “We can do custom menu packages for weddings and private functions that are quite different from our event offering. It’s an exciting way to serve food and we love to develop a menu for the occasion and the venue – that way we stay fresh and interesting.”
With five kids between them, (the youngest is a one-year-old) launching and growing a food business has thrown them some huge hooks, but Sophie says they refuse to compromise on their standards to save time (or money). Olivia is the beancounter while Sophie relishes the role of Head Chef – or, as Olivia puts it “I’m Batman with the books, and she’s Robin – while she’s Batman in the kitchen.”
To manage costs, the pair recently came up with the ingenious idea of “popping up” in Sophie’s beachside community of Te Awanga when they had overruns. “We don’t like using frozen stock, ever, so if we do an event and have leftovers we head over to the hall near home, park up, and, honestly, we sell out. We’ll be 10 orders deep from the moment we open, and the community loves it.”
The friendship needs managing too, says Olivia. “We try to have time together that doesn’t involve work. And yeah, we have had moments when we don’t speak for five minutes over something – but then one of says something stupid, we laugh, and we move on!”