The café and specialty coffee retailer operates during spring and summer out of a converted 20ft shipping container which sits in a paddock near Rabbit Island, a popular recreational area near Mapua. The area was devoid of any retail activity outside of roadside fruit and flower stalls until 2013, when Ali Slotemaker and her husband Stephen Lee moved back to Nelson from Australia and saw potential in Slotemakers’ parents front paddock.
Lee is a carpenter by trade. He soon got to work converting an old shipping container into a self-contained store and café which could be moved on and off the site with ease. The resulting premises neatly contained all the gear for a café, a front counter with mobile point-of-sale software and a range of retail goods such as hand-printed tea towels and coffee beans. Beans for the café are occasionally supplied by Slotemaker and Lee’s roastery business in Cairns, Industry One.
Rabbit Island Coffee Co’s clientele is highly seasonal, given that most of its customers are on their way to the beach or passing by on the Great Taste cycle trail, so the container store is shut down and removed over the autumn and winter months.
At the close of their first season, Slotemaker and Lee found themselves fitting out a second shipping crate store. It’s not every retailer who would choose to start from scratch every year, but Slotemaker says she and her partner love the chance to get creative.
“People do think we’re a little bit mad, [saying] ‘Oh, you’ve got the store and you’ve made it yourself and why would you want to give it up?’ But we just really enjoy creating them.”
The pair incorporated some design improvements into the new container based on what they’d noticed during their first season. The new front counter was changed from an “L” shape into a standard straight one, and a dark grey pressed-tin panel was added to the front of the counter. A matching awning gave the team more protection from sun and rain than the first container offered.
“We both have very strong ideas about what we like and what we want, and I think that results in a very nice design,” says Slotemaker.
Each container fit-out takes Slotemaker and Lee around three weeks to complete. Slotemaker says having a new premises each year means Rabbit Island Coffee Co. can keep up with current trends and fashions in shop interiors, especially colours.
The first container shop was sold on Trade Me last year to a non-profit organisation in Wellington. Its replacement is now up for sale as well, with an asking price of just $40,000. Those keen to see it in action can visit Rabbit Island Coffee Co. in Tasman district until it shuts for the winter on March 6.