When Dennis and Sharon Crawford established Nature Smoke in an old wharf building at Mapua in the mid 1980’s I am sure they had no idea the business would grow into the significant enterprise that is The Smokehouse, or that they would be the beginning of something wonderful at Mapua.
If you remember the original wharf area from the 1980’s you will recall there were two businesses in the old sheds, a fresh crab business where Jelly Fish is now and Nature Smoke where The Apple Shed Cafe is now located, they were the first two retail businesses on wharf, the rest was apple storage.
Since those early beginnings I have watched the smoked fish business change hands a couple of times, be rebranded as The Smokehouse and I have watched each new owner add fresh enthusiasm and ideas to grow the business. The current owner, Peter Pattullo, bought the business in 2014, and has kept the expansion going.
Peter told me they bought the business on April 1st 2014, “it seemed like a good day to take it over, but as we put a focus on growing the business, expanding the product range and providing a better and more effective working environment for our team we soon discovered we were under pressure at the original site and, as the Mapua wharf area has grown into a fully-fledged tourist destination, it just got too difficult to operate efficiently so we decided to relocate the fish smoking facility.”
The famous Smokehouse Fish & Chip shop is still an integral part of the business and continues to operate on the wharf, “originally we were smoking fish out the back of the retail shop in an old wharf shed built in about 1940.
“It wasn’t very efficient, a bit of a rabbit warren, and deliveries came in through the front door, it got increasingly more difficult to run this sort of operation after the recent TDC redevelopment which included pedestrianizing the wharf area; don’t get me wrong the developments are fantastic but just not suitable for the nature of our growing business.
“Other things came into the decision to move too, particularly round hygiene as it become harder to guarantee for our customers a food safe product in what was essentially an old wharf shed.
“The new premises in Saxton Road have been designed for us so we have achieved lots of efficiencies around fresh fish coming in, being smoked, packed and shipped out; no more trying to get a tonne of fish in and out the front door at Mapua while the shop is open.”
I think the business has done fantastically well to achieve what is has since those early days in Mapua, the smoked fish concept was a perfect fit for the location and Peter says “the authentic, genuine smoking on the wharf at Mapua couldn’t have been better, that’s why we keep the shop there, we need to be associated with the home of the business but I knew that if we wanted to take this business to the next level we had to move production” and take the business to the next level is exactly what Peter wanted to do.
“I like owning small businesses with a great story and growing them, so when we were looking for something new The Smokehouse ticked all the boxes.
“The thing that really drew me to the Smokehouse were a really strong brand, a great local backstory, potential to add value and the business was also using a product that New Zealand has a great reputation for, seafood.
“It is a product we can put to the customer cooked and ready to eat, just a naturally smoked, really healthy product that fits with the healthy life style thing.”
After brining the fish overnight it is smoked in brick smokers using manuka wood shavings. “Each smoke is personally crafted by our master smokers – it’s a unique combination of art and science and the smoking process uses absolutely no artificial additives, our commitment to provide safe and wholesome products is absolute.”
Peter says that the growth of the business is the exciting part of the story and they couldn’t have grown as quickly as they have without the support of lots of people, but particularly their staff, “through the whole growth phase and relocating we have had phenomenal support from staff.
“They are fantastic people who are really dedicated to producing a great product, but they worked in very trying conditions at Mapua. My knowledge round smoking fish was limited, I had worked for a large meat company so had an appreciation of large scale food factories, just not with fish so our staff are hugely important to us.”
Local retailers have been an important part of the growth story too and they have strong local support, “we still have a stall at the Nelson Market on Saturdays, it’s a really important way for us to stay in touch with regulars, they get to engage with us and we notice locals bringing people from out of town to our stall, it seems like locals are proud to have us as part of the Nelson artisan producer story and love the backstory the business has.
“In fact, we recently found the very original smoked seafood recipe, it had been altered slightly over the years but when we tried the original version we decided we had to revert to it, as it was even better.”
The new factory isn’t all mechanised and conveyor belted, they still employ the same methods they used at Mapua, “we still use brick kilns, still make pate in small batches, we are still doing what the business has always done, just in a much nicer and more efficient building.”
“With more space, onsite freezer storage, good workflow through the building from a food safety point of view, room to move, room to store things and even a staff smoko room rather than just a bench, the building is great for staff and gives us the opportunity to keep growing the business.”
A small business that started with one man’s passion for smoked fish about 30 years ago now has owners who want to guide this local treasure through the next phase of its life, and with Peter’s passion and dedication I am sure he is the right person to do it.