Describe your café in a sentence (or two).
Nick's Cafe is about providing the locals with a cafe that returns the support in kind. Food is not the only thing on the menu – a positive, friendly and personal experience is how I like to treat my customers. I hate scripted welcomes, I encourage banter when possible, I treat everyone as a mate.
Why and how did Nick's Cafe get started?
Working in Sydney as a King’s Cross bouncer I knew I could do more, so I applied for a job as a cellar man for Star Hotel in Chinatown with my focus on learning as much about the industry as possible from the cellar up. Over the course of nine years I climbed the ladder until I was given the opportunity to manage the Carlisle Castle Hotel in Newtown Sydney. It was there I knew I could finally do it by myself, so my partner Mayu Mimaki and I moved to New Zealand in 2011 and started Nick's in partnership with a good friend, whom I had recently bought out of the business.
How did you feel when you found out you had won your award?
So proud to live in a community that gets what I do.
Do you think the hospitality industry has changed much since you started?
I started in the industry as a chef working for my mum at age 14. With the rise of cooking shows, it's educated the public on what good food is and has raised their expectations and knowledge from 26 years ago.
Who is the Nick's Cafe customer? How much does this influence your decisions?
It's 95 per cent local trade. I like to ask how every meal is in person and take any criticism I can get to evolve the meal to suit. It’s been more than 20 years since I last cooked, professionally, so I really value feedback.
When deciding on a décor for your cafe, what was most important to you?
Trying to capture the town’s essence of the black sand beach and steel mill was an influence – so was budget.
Who came up with the menu and what was the idea behind it?
I update the menu and create everything using my mantra of "Shop local, buy local and support local". With little current cooking knowledge, I found myself turning to Google and YouTube to educate myself on cooking, as well as hours of experimenting on friends.
What is your food philosophy?
Respect the ingredient, always start with good-quality, fresh product. Don't burn it! And if it ain’t right, don't send it. I would rather you wait then serve you something I’m not happy about.
Is there one dish that is particularly popular with customers?
My mince on toast is quite popular – more than 22 ingredients make up that dish and it is a labour of love for me. It took four years to get the recipe right.
Why do you think New Zealanders connect so much with cafe culture?
I'm not quite sure myself, I do know that what we do here in New Zealand and in Aus is very highly sought-after in Asia. I’ve been to Japan a few times with my partner and would love to do a café over there one day.
What’s next for Nick’s Café?
I would love to expand the Nick's Cafe concept in similar towns around New Zealand and Japan. Currently struggling to find a team to make that happen at the moment, but I shall persevere.
What’s the best part of your day?
Watching customers enjoy their meals really gets me – I love what I do.
What do you find most satisfying about working in the business?
Being in control of my own destiny outweighs the meagre wage I take.
26-30 Constable Rd, Waiuku
See the full list of NZ Café of the Year Award 2016 winners at nzcafeoftheyear.co.nz.