Dairies are under threat across New Zealand, but as NZ Retail editor and associate publisher Sarah Dunn has found, sometimes the corner shop is just what you need.
It’s midwinter in Wellington during the late noughts. I am the head tenant of an enormous student flat in Hataitai with a rotating population of eight to 12, preparing to host my 22ndbirthday party. I have strong opinions about the necessary ingredients for a really good party: 1) Live music, at least in the beginning; 2) Lots of food; 3) Some kind of fire.
This particular flat is well-equipped for live music, and we’ll get to the fire component in a moment, but since everyone I know at this point in time is vegan, gluten free or both, the logical thing to cook for a big shared dinner has got to be curry. Three hours before the party, I ask my friends to bring their biggest stockpots and any rice makers they own over. Seven out of nine flatmates make themselves scarce.
I get to work chopping vegetables and grinding spices. There are two curries on the menu, both gluten free and largely improvised: a Madras-style curry with a whole goat’s leg in it; and a much larger saag aloo number.
Around 5.30pm, I realise I’ve forgotten to buy ginger. Horror! There’s no way these curries can go ahead without it, and borrowing off a flatmate isn’t an option as nine out of 11 of them can’t even make toast without burning it.
In a flash of inspiration, I remember the little old pink-painted dairy up the road. It’s just about closing time, but I can make it. I throw on some shoes and race to its door, arriving right as the woman behind the counter is getting up to flip the ‘Open’ sign over.
Breathlessly, I tell her my problem. The woman nods, brow furrowed, and explains that they don’t sell fresh vegetables at the dairy, but she’ll help me if I can mind the shop for a moment. She disappears through a door to the right of the counter before coming back with a large piece of fresh ginger.
“This is from my own kitchen,” she says. “I hope your curries turn out well.”
I unsuccessfully try to pay her for the ginger and then head home. It’s never before occurred to me that the dairy is attached to a home, but, looking over my shoulder on the way back to my place, I can now see that there’s a family living there. It’s obvious from the community notices in the window that they take their role as a local business very seriously.
Back at the student flat, seven out of 10 flatmates have turned up again. They spent the afternoon in town buying hundreds of tiny tealights, and as I finish cooking, they cover every flat surface in the lounge with candles. The room fills with flickering light and delicious scents. Somebody pulls out a guitar. The party is a hit. And it’s all thanks to the corner dairy.
Also: I was honoured to be named one of Vend’s top 100 global retail influencers for 2019, sneaking onto the list at number 98. As they say, you’ve got to start somewhere.
This story originally appeared in NZ Retail issue 760 February/March 2019