A Conversation with Chris Edmeades of The Olde Creamery Cafe
Chris Edmeades was a teacher for twenty-five years before training as a florist. In 2001, she and her husband Geoff went to view a rose nursery for sale in Kaipaki Road, rural Waikato. They purchased the property, with six huge hot houses containing 16,000 miniature roses, as a going concern.
The nursery was quite run-down, but Chris immediately recognised the potential of the old fertiliser depot, which had been a creamery in a former life, to become a café and declared to Geoff that she could open one there. He agreed.
They set about transforming the building, reusing a lot of the old timbers to create the rustic and charming Olde Creamery Café.
I thought, “I’ve run school camps, I can run a café!” Chris jokes.
The business has grown from strength to strength since then and Chris tells me that it has been the public that have driven that growth. “We have had so much support from the community,” she explains.
As our conversation goes on though, I realise that Chris is being humble to say that. Although it is true that the locals are very supportive, it is clear to me that her ‘can do’ attitude plays a big part in her success.
One day a lady approached Chris and said, “My husband is a vet and he needs a place for a conference once a month. Do you do conferences?”
“I thought to myself, ‘I can use that upstairs room’. So I said, “Absolutely, it’ll be ready in two weeks.” (No pressure, Geoff!)
“They’ve been coming every month for twelve years and we get lots of conferences now.”
Chris certainly embraces the adage of ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’!
“Someone else asked me, ‘Do you do weddings here?’” Chris tells me.
“Yes,” I lied, thinking to myself, ‘We do now’!”
“We’ve catered weddings for all sizes now. 40-50 guests is our target market. We have had a very sweet wedding for 13 guests and even one that was 120 people. It was in the summer and it was under the understanding that if it did rain we would use the Kaipaki Hall down the road. But it was a beautiful day so it wasn’t necessary.”
The Olde Creamery Café is certainly a very beautiful and tranquil setting and there’s three and a half acres with lots of idyllic spots for taking photographs. Chris always goes the extra mile for her guests, but the greatest illustration of this fact is the way she re-built her business from the depths of the ashes and hosted a wedding at the Creamery just days after a serious fire swept through much of the property.
Chris remembers, “In February 2014 we had a big fire caused by an electrical fault in the storage buildings behind the café. It was 3.30 in the morning. I was in bed and I saw a flicker of light which I thought was the lights from a milk tanker at first. But then it kept moving and moving, and I thought either that tankers in trouble, or we are. We lost everything we had – my florist shop, 150 sets of china, all my crystal, the chiller with the wine for the next week’s wedding, everything except what was in the café. I said to the fireman, “Just save this old building because we can’t replace it. It’s 125 years old”.
We closed for one day. I said to the chef, “We will close today, but that’s it”.
She said “You’re in shock!” And I was, but I meant it.
I rang the couple and I said, “This is what we’ll do. I’ll get 150 metres of tulle and I will tulle it and decorate it with flowers and lights and you will never know. It wasn’t until the groom said in his speech, “Thank you to Chris for all her hard work after the fire,” that the guests even knew it had happened.
When I stopped crying and the smoke cleared I thought I might as well try and make something good out of this now. So we extended the garden area and added a garden chess set and checkers board. We have planted new star jasmine, which is growing nicely now.
For the last nine years Chris has been hosting high teas at the Creamery. I ask her how that started and she laughs and tells me it was ‘sort of an accident’!
Chris explains, “I took my mother to an ‘unnamed’ place in Auckland and I was disappointed. The venue was great but the actual high tea was disappointing. I said to my sister “I could do this better myself”.
I do a lot of public speaking and I was speaking to a gardening group so I told them I had some market research to do and I asked them what they thought of the high tea idea. They loved it and were very encouraging. The next day two ladies rocked up and said “We are going to be your shoppers. What do you need?” I gave them a list and a budget and off they went.”
Since then the high tea side of things has grown exponentially. Chris thought that the local market would soon tire of the concept and that would be that, but actually people travel from Auckland, Tauranga and Taupo to enjoy High Tea at the Creamery.
“I’m blown away,” Chris tells me. “I’ve just been waiting for the bubble to burst, but I don’t think it’s going to! I thought ‘how many people can do High Tea?’ Apparently, a lot!”
Chris also holds Charity High Teas in the garden. Guests have high tea to celebrate family birthdays, anniversaries, bridal showers and baby showers.
High Tea appeals to people of all ages. Chris has introduced High Tea for little girls which have also become a popular choice for special birthdays.
Chris has noticed younger women in their twenties are appreciating the vintage china tea-sets more now that there is a bit of a vintage revival going on.
Despite the popularity of High Teas at the Creamery and the repeat customers this brings, Chris has utilised the marketing platform of Grabone vouchers now and then.
“It has been successful for us. We have sold 400 vouchers this time, which means 800 people,” Chris says. “However, you have to be very mindful that although you are busy, it is not your greatest day at the till, so we do limit it to six voucher guests per day and we don’t offer it doing our busy season. In the end though it is great exposure, good advertising and we’ve done the sums and what we lose on the high tea we usually make up for in gift shop sales.”
If High Tea is not your ‘cup of tea’ though, The Olde Creamery Café serves a varied and hearty lunch menu.
“We also have wine tasting upstairs now. The riverboat people come up the river, land at Mystery Creek and bring them up by bus for wine tasting. We provide them with a cheese-board and the wine company supplies the wine. It is good exposure for us because it is twenty people coming here that might otherwise not have come and found out about us.”
The Olde Creamery Café is open five days per week from Wednesday to Sunday. “For thirteen years I opened seven days a week,” Chris tells me. “Then I thought I would claim a weekend. So we closed Monday and Tuesday. I thought we would lose trade, but actually we are just busier on the other five days.”
In January 2016, Chris purchased an existing business called The Kiwi Cookie Company, so her ‘days off’ have now been filled with baking and icing novelty cookies. She was keen to grow the business and like everything else Chris takes on, it has become a roaring success. When Chris bought the business the cookies were being sold to six cafes and that number has increased to 53 stockists. The cookies can now be found up and down the country in a variety of stores, cafes and tourist spots as well as being available to purchase directly from Chris at the Creamery or on the website.
There appears to be no end to Chris’s passion for entrepreneurship and she is one of the most inspiring business women I have ever met. A lot of people are ideas people, but Chris takes those ideas, every one of them it would seem, and takes action on them. I wonder if there is anything she wouldn’t find a way to include under the umbrella of The Olde Creamery Café.
“Someone did ask me when the motels were going in,” laughs Chris, “but I said no. Although we do actually offer holiday accommodation now.
We live in the villa in the paddock. One side is the original 1890 cottage of the owner of the creamery and then we joined on an 1874 villa from Kopu and did it up in the same style. It’s far too big for the two of us so we offer bed and breakfast in Rose Cottage. Guests enjoy late check out and have breakfast in the café.
While guests are enjoying their meals they may be lucky enough to spy Molly, who Chris tells me is the real boss of the establishment. She will be curled up sleeping by the fire or in a sunny corner somewhere. “She’s sixteen and we’ve had her since she was six weeks old,” Chris explains. While I was chatting to Chris, Molly quietly crawled into my handbag and went to sleep. I can honestly say that was the first time I had ever had a cat sleep in my handbag, but she looked very comfortable in there.
“So, what’s next for Chris?” I ask.
“I think I’ve done my dash!” Chris laughs.
The day I wake up and think ‘Oh I don’t want to go to work’, then I might say ‘hmm let’s think about this’, but until then, well, I’m healthy so I’ll just carry on.”
I don’t doubt it for a moment.
Chris kindly shared a recipe for her special Olde Creamery Beer Bread, lovely to serve with cheese and chutney on a ploughman’s board.
Old Creamery Beer Bread
3 cups self-raising flour
1/3 cup caster sugar
Mix together with bottle of beer – 300 mls. It will be a ‘sloppy mix’.
Add nuts, seeds to mix – about 2 Tablespoons.
Stir until mixed.
Pour into small loaf tins. Top with extra nuts and seeds.
Bake 180 C for 12-15 minutes.
Serve with chutneys, cheese, etc. Great on a ploughman’s board.