I first met Kirsten Ammann when she ran the cellar door, local trade and events operation at Neudorf Vineyards. Today with her partner Tim Fitzgerald they own the newly established Mapua Country Store.
The store is on the corner of the old state highway and Aranui Road at the entrance to Mapua. Previously the Mapua Tavern the building stood empty for quite a while after the pub closed before they opened their new business.
I remember the building when it was Woollaston’s Service Station back in the 1980’s and it has certainly changed since those days.
Today what was the public bar in the tavern is the main store while the commercial kitchen for the tavern is now the place they make delicious homemade food to take away along with all of the wonderful fresh local foods they sell; this is a real country store that has something for everyone in the local community and visitors alike.
Fitzgerald has done a lot in his life from photography, building to selling antiques, he has also worked in the craft brewing industry while Ammann had worked in the wine industry before moving to Nelson in 2002, “my father is Swiss, my mother a kiwi, I was born in New Zealand and I came to Nelson from Auckland via Ohakune, then Wellington, gradually working my way South until I found the place I wanted to live” she told me recently.
While working at Neudorf Vineyards, then at Woollaston Estate she became the secretary for the Moutere Artisans group and her involvement in that group introduced her to many of the wonderful products being grown and made in the region, especially in the Moutere area.
I asked her why a shop in the country? “My friends and I found it frustrating as consumers living in the Mapua area and having to drive to Motueka or Richmond for everyday staples on a weekly basis.
“I just thought if we did it right, the business could become a great hub for locals to pop in to talk about food, share recipes, and buy everyday fresh produce and some delicious foodie items that the local Four Square doesn’t stock.”
“We also have staff who are real foodies so they prepare fresh food on-site and love talking about food, working out recipes for new products and sharing it all with the locals.”
Ammann was quick to point out that the Four Square store in the Mapua township “has a good range of everyday necessities, we don’t carry the large range of products they do so we are quite compatible businesses for the locals to shop at”.
The Mapua Country Store is exactly what the name says, they have a wide range of products that are grown and produced in the region and local producers support them with in-store tastings every second week on Friday or Saturday depending on the producer.
I have written about many of the outstanding producers in this region and you will find lots of their products on the shelves and in the chillers at Mapua Country Store, producers like Neudorf Olives, Neudorf Mushrooms, Chia drinks, Yum granola, Gather Girl (local lady Hayley who makes beautiful coconut yogurt), Milk Drop, Wangapeka Dairy, Coulters Cider Vinegar and Moutere Fruits who grow the wonderful strawberries and make outstanding berry fruit jams are just some who have had in-store tastings since they opened in early April.
A big focus for the business is fresh produce, “Tim goes to the markets every morning and we buy direct from local growers where possible”, again I asked why? “Just being selfish really, not wanting to drive so far to buy fresh produce and also being able to offer the locals great variety on their doorstep.”
“Support local, by local, eat fresh, this community is fantastic for that and we saw an opportunity and a need and just went for it. We have only been open four months and already locals are becoming regulars, dropping in to buy fresh produce as they need it rather than doing the traditional once-a-week shop outside of Mapua.”
While the focus may be on fresh produce Mapua Country Store is gradually being expanded as demand is identified, but the focus will always be on wonderful fresh produce and products.
They have the award winning local pies made by Ginger Dynamite in Riwaka with flavours like satay pumpkin, steak & brown ale, chilli beef and chicken & bacon all made fresh and delivered regularly.
Sweet treats and Villy’s famous Spanakopita, their own homemade soup with flavours that change daily, salads to take away are all made in house fresh every day and with love, “our staff are all foodies and they create many of the dishes we have”.
Ammann says the grocery lines they carry are the things you don’t normally find in small supermarket and they will be expanding the retail space soon.
“When we set up we didn’t know how well it would go so we were cautious, the old bar area is the retail space at the moment but we have been so encouraged by the support we are getting we will soon expand the retail area into part of what was the restaurant in the old tavern.
“We will have real fruit ice cream for summer, a small range of gardening items, freshly made food and a few other exciting additions which are still to come.”
The next step will be adding wine and beer to their offerings, they recently obtained a liquor licence for a small area at the back of the store and they will have a focus on quality local wines, craft beers and cider as well as a few carefully chosen offerings from outside the region.
Ammann says “We want to expand as we learn what the locals want in their store and we love receiving feedback and ideas from them.”
“We are going to resurrect the pumpkin growing competition the tavern used to run during the summer for an autumn weigh-in, in store cooking demonstrations with the first one having been very successful and a lot of fun along with colouring competitions for the local youngsters and lots more, it is all about being part of the local community.”
The Mapua Country Store may still be a work in progress but I think it is already a high quality, exciting addition to a community. Mapua has developed a reputation as a great local destination, and based on how warmly Mapua Country Store has been welcomed to the area their ideal of becoming a community hub is well on the way to being realised.