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August 17, 2014 | by  | in Features Homepage | [ssba]

Campus Digest(ion)

Salient reporter Philip McSweeney checked out some of the places who offer kai around Kelburn Campus. He was expecting to be inundated with propaganda; instead, he got thoughtful and illuminating interview subjects. Here are the results. Sincere apologies to The Hunter Lounge and Louis’ for not making it to ya, and for not fitting in Milk and Honey: we like y’all too xx.

First off was the manager of Maki Mono, the sushi café opened in the Hub.

What do you think attracts students to Maki Mono?

Umm, it’s healthy and it’s good – I mean it’s not cheap but it’s not expensive, and after four it becomes cheap… I think that we have – is it ‘variety’? Sorry, my English isn’t that good.

It’s a damn sight better than my Japanese! How do you mean variety?

Well the meats we use and, uhh, there are three kinds of rice [white, brown, and black, which your correspondent hadn’t heard of before this interview. Incidentally, ‘Black Rice’ is a very very swell song by a band called Women], and we use white rice and brown rice, which lots of customers like.

In terms of authenticity, how similar is the sushi available here to the sushi that’s made in Japan?

Ahh, it’s very different! There are different ingredients – like in Japan, there’s no fried chicken, which is our bestselling item and my favourite – Japan has a lot more seafood I think, and they use a different kind of rice. Different… textures? Although, we get Japanese customers who come here and say it’s just as good as sushi from Japan… different but good.

And what about the students – your customers, I mean? Are they ever rude or unruly? I’m just thinking about the queues that go out the door…

Ahh exactly, right out the door! Most of them are very good, always polite and happy, but some can get impatient and it is very slow for them. Actually, we haven’t decided yet but we think we’re going to add another cashier to make things quicker [YOU HEARD IT HERE FIRST] because we know that people don’t like waiting and we want to help.

Next, I spoke to one of the twin (surprise!) brothers responsible for the Ilott Café. He was articulate and chose his words and actions judiciously, even plying me with a pie and a drink. He revealed that a great deal of work went into creating the canteeny, cheap-as-chips ethos his café is renowned for.

So first of all, a bit of background; where does the Ilott Café come from?

Well, it started in 1982, I think—

OH sorry, I meant in terms of your involvement! I was thinking that some students might not know about the UniStop thing…

Oh right! Well actually, even before that – this will have been eight years ago now – we ran a café in the Recreation Centre. The Recreation Café, it was called. Do you know where people do yoga now? It was tucked in there. Then we moved to UniStop [where Vic Books resides now] and that was more of a dairy thing, but this is a completely different enterprise. We kept the UniStop sign so people would recognise us and make the switch over, but what happened was that the old owners of the Ilott Café didn’t want to invest in fixing it up – it needed a lot of work – so we kind of took over.

I was going to say, I was there before you took over the Ilott and it was a bit, well, not to be indelicate, but it was a bit skody…

*laughs* Yeah, I don’t think people realise how much work went into making it functional. We were working alongside the Council, getting it up to scratch and stuff.

I’m sorry to ask this, but a lot of people don’t realise that you run this with your twin brother… Do you ever get tired of people doing double-takes or looking shocked?

No, not at all – we like to joke that we have food and entertainment. *laughs* It’s good fun, and my brother likes to play jokes on customers.

How do I know you’re not the one who likes to play jokes on customers?

Well exactly! Although, I’m the handsome one.

A likely tale! Just to change track real quick: one of the things I like about your café is that the menu always seems to be expanding.

Yeah, although we can’t make all the dishes we’d like to – there’s a limited amount of power we can use before we blow a switch. We put burgers on the menu after about a year of planning, and I’d say the price we charge is almost exactly what we pay for the ingredients. Another thing is that we don’t like taking items off the menu because people come back and ask for it and if we don’t have it they won’t come back.

We’ve worked hard on having a reputation for— well, I mean, it’s good for the University that we have more gourmet and expensive outlets, but… That’s not to say we don’t work with other places – sometimes, if one of us runs out of milk, we’ll help them out free of charge, or if they run out of coffee. I know that if we ever needed help, they’d do it; we’re all in it together, in a way.

What food would you sell if $$$ wasn’t an object?

We’re actually selling a new 600-gram burger, and people always looked surprised when it arrives – it looks like a dinner. It’s the biggest burger in New Zealand [unsubstantiated].

Any other thoughts, observations, queries?

Just that… students are talkative and loud. Not in a bad way at all: I mean, just that if a song plays on the radio, they’ll sing along and they’ll chat happily with their friends and be themselves. I’m very pleased with what we have on offer and how vibrant our community is.

The Hare Krishna outlet did not want to respond to Salient’s perfectly innocuous questions, presumably because they were busy guilt-tripping emotionally vulnerable people into buying books on Cuba St. Those $5 lunches though! We could forgive them for anything.

Next on the itinerary was a quality shit-shooting session with Vic Books’ (gorgeous) manager, Lars, who waxed poetic about the new food menu and let me sample some in order that I share his enthusiasm. I was not disappointed.

Could you fill me in with a little bit of background on what Vic Books is and how it came to be? First, get the fluff-piece stuff out of the way.

Ha, right. I’ve only been here for about two years, and after about three months I became manager, because there was no manager, and no one else wanted to do it. Since then, we’ve moved location [to the Hub] and… it’s safe to say, some of us found the transition difficult.


I mean, look at this place: it’s huge. And we got fucked by the Mainzeal thing, our separate express kiosk was delayed for months, and the Hub was a mess last year, so there were some growing pains. But we’re going great now.

Fantastic! So your new food menu?

We’ve just changed suppliers and we have some really really good food, including a new brunch menu and amazing toasted sandwiches on sourdough… *mouth visibly waters* It’s cool, too, because all our suppliers are local, just down the road, and I feel like we’re all in it together. And People’s Coffee, too – all the companies that sell it are real tight-knit.

So you’re a bit of a coffee purist/elitist?

I like to think that I’m not, but realistically, I probably am. When people order, like, mochas or hot chocolates, I just think: “Why don’t you just get a flat white or a long black?” What’s interesting, though, is that our decaf blend at the moment is fucking delicious. Half the staff are drinking it and have gone off coffee. They’ll come back. They always come back. *laughs*

What’s the most annoying coffee request you get?

What we around here call ‘The Deluxe’. Extra-hot, extra chocolate, one shot of decaf and one shot of single origin. *laughs* Fortunately, no one has actually ordered that.

How many units do you go through per day?

About 100 food items and 800–850 coffees, 1000 on a busy day. The kiosk is making a killing too – I’m talking $2000 days – and it’s good that it’s open later too.

Congratulations! Do you have any close ties with the Uni?

Yeah, we’re really close to the Marae and I mean, obviously, we’re owned by VUWSA somehow – do you know how that works?

No fucking idea, mate.

Exactly, no one knows! But obviously, we’re affiliated with them. We also do our recycling through the University after getting complaints from a neighbour, which is a fuckin’ mish.

Awesome! Hey, just out of curiosity – are you ever privy to any salacious or scandalous gossip when you serve coffee?

*laughs* Nahh, I try and not listen to customers as much as possible. If I hear any, I’ll make sure to tell you straight away—



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