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Kainga is where the heart is

When it came to setting up her own cafe, Shelley Rutene chose to lean in.

That choice and celebration of her roots and Maori culture saw Carterton’s Kainga Eatery recognised in the inaugural Pakihi Maori Award at the recent Wairarapa Business Awards.

Rutene said the win was surprise  –  but a good one.

“We were stoked to be finalists, and then when we won, we were absolutely blown away.

“It’s not just me, it’s a team effort. I’m so so proud of them.”

Rutene said the moment was made even sweeter with 90 per cent of the team attending the business awards ceremony at Tauherenikau Racecourse last month, 

She said the aim of the cafe, which opened its doors 18 months ago, was to make customers feel at home. 

“Kainga means home in te reo. I based the menu and the cafe layout on how home was for me, around the table laughing.

“The menu has a few family favourites, including seafood.

“Carterton’s my home town. It’s nice to be back where I was born, I run into loads of people I still recognise around town.”

Rutene said she had always dreamed of owning her own business, and with whakapapa to both Rangitane and Ngati Kahungunu iwi, it was important to include Maori language and culture in that.

“I wanted to incorporate my culture in a modern way. 

“Te reo is important to me and my upbringing. We’ve included it in the menu, and with the wharepaku [bathroom]. 

“I also encourage my staff to answer the phone ‘kia ora’, and for Maori language week, they learned how to ask for a coffee in te reo.”

She said Kainga was run with three main values in mind, manaakitanga [generosity], kotahitanga [unity] and ahurei [individuality]. 

Rutene said the Pakihi Maori Award helped highlight Maori-run businesses in the region, and felt like the perfect award for Kainga Eatery.

“The Maori-owned businesses have come up a lot. I’m really proud of that.”

The award judges praised the cafe for its resilience. 

“The owners have worked hard to create a modern and vibrant setting with the familiar comforts of home, and their menu is a proud celebration of the best the land has to offer.

“They showed both resilience and community spirit during some tough times during the pandemic, which was especially impressive.”


Helen Holt
Helen Holt
Helen Holt is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age and enjoys reporting on a variety of topics, regularly covering Wairarapa events, tourism, local businesses, and the occasional health story.

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