We're thankful here at Struan Farm for Piopio's award winning cafe, The Fat Pigeon, for many reasons. Most people in the know would agree that the cafe literally saved our provincial King Country village many years ago now.
During 2006 it was publicised in the region that Piopio was "dying." It had become increasingly difficult to recruit new staff from outside the district to the town's school and shops, for farm managers and workers, mechanics and vets.
Something about the stigma of being labeled as "dying" galvanised the community to take action. This is a rural area with a rich Maori history, where families have farmed for several generations and still do. Public meetings were held, consultants retained, and working groups established to generate ideas to turn the situation around. A public survey confirmed that three essential services were desired: doctor, postal service, and last but not least: a good cafe.
Piopio is situated on the main road south, SH3, midway between Hamilton to the north and New Plymouth to the south. Convincing some of that traffic to stop was critical to Piopio's survival and commercial success.
Four families got together and established a privately funded community development company. The group soon grew to sixteen. Research on a cafe business followed with the assistance of Craig McFarlane (New Plymouth based Ozone Coffee). It was clear from the start that there was only one person to run Piopio's cafe: local Melanie Simpson.
As you might expect, there were fits and starts, but to make a long blog post short, The Fat Pigeon Cafe was built next to the public toilets and Kara Park in April 2009, and opened in June. The Piopio College carpentry class constructed a fence and bridge across to the park. Investors cracked in on the landscaping. The builder spoke to local school groups. Excitement was in the air, and everyone in Piopio felt part of it.
The Fat Pigeon Cafe opened its doors during the global financial crisis, in the middle of winter. The cafe succeeded, undaunted. It turns out there was real demand for a cafe in our country town on the main road. Especially one serving amazing, delicious food and excellent Ozone coffee. Word of mouth spread, awards were won. The line of customers is often out the door.
More good news: in 2011 Peter Jackson's Hobbit crew invaded Piopio, filming a segment of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" at Denize Bluffs in the Mangaotaki Valley (now open as Hairy Feet Waitomo Film location).
So Piopio is now thriving. We have visitors from New Zealand and overseas flocking to our town (excuse the sheep analogy), the country town "saved" by our cafe. This week we have both Japanese and Australian guests staying here at Struan Farm.
But while these visitors are important to commercial sustainability, The Fat Pigeon wouldn't be the success it is without continued community support. Locals frequent the cafe and book catering for important occasions throughout the year. Here at Struan Farm we use the catering team for events held at the farm, and direct our farmstay guests into town to the cafe and its sister Night Owl Restaurant for dinner.
I am personally thankful to have the Fat Pigeon for two reasons in particular. In winter when John is up north on business and the rain is going sideways, I am happy to have a local cafe for friendly faces and an excellent coffee (and perhaps breakfast or a baked treat) when I make the weekly trip into the dump.
What's prompted this post today is that at this time of the year, The Fat Pigeon is happy to take my garden surplus as/if/when. As you might suspect, at the moment that's TOMATOES.
I'll trade tomatoes for coffee vouchers any time!