Part 3: Transformation and adapting to change at Homeland by Peter Gordon & Alastair Carruthers
Homeland is more than just a restaurant, it is a cooking school, a producer showcase as well as the connector of communities. As we tide through Alert Level 3, Homeland continues to showcase their producers through their Click + Collect takeaway menu, as well as transforming the cooking school set up into a production facility for their newly launched retail range. You can anticipate nosh bites like spiced cheese straws to trail mixes, to diving banana miso caramel sauce, Peter's legendary sweet chilli sambal and kawakawa pesto to glam up your next meal. Not forgetting the hugely popular three cheese scones to take home. We caught up with Peter Gordon and Connie Clarkson (Head of Business Development) at Homeland to see what changes have taken place during this time.
We see that your cooking school has transformed into some sort of a production facility, what changes have you made to the space within Homeland?
As we are uncertain on how long we are remaining in this level, we focussed on takeaway food. Fairly simple meals that could be reheated whilst keeping our ethos – Powerful, Tradeable, Sustainable Kai. The menu is designed to ensure that there would be little to no wastage should levels change. If we hadn’t been able to donate our food when Level 4 was announced to Papatūānuku Kõkiri Marae in Mangere East, the food wastage would have been enormous.
During this time is also when we were reminded by my partner Al (Alastair Carruthers) that we’d always wanted to do a range of Homeland products – and what better time to focus on that than now. I worked on recipes with my chefs whilst Connie focussed on creating packaging, labels, nutritional information, and co-ordinating logistics with our front of house team.
While the dining room waits patiently for the return of our customers and friends, each of our seven cooking stations have become socially distanced bakeries, bottling, packing lines and shop fronts. Giving our waterfront loving neighbours the perfect food theatre as they peer through the windows watching the craft of making and packing of great food.
It looks like you’ve focussed on baking, along with comfort food that appeals to someone looking for a bite at any time of the day. Has the click & collect + retail range helped? And have you learnt something new about your customers?
In less than two weeks, we’ve managed to come up with products to sell in our retail range and wholesome click & collect dishes and they’ve been doing really well - our pivoting is paying off, and we will continue to increase our retail range to feature regional producers across Aotearoa NZ and the Pacific.
We also know that in lockdowns, people love to bake so we’re offering things are a little more complex than your average cake. Our pastry chef Petra is fantastic and has created gluten free cake boxes to takeaway, paprika spiced cheese straws and lemon rosemary shortbread that’s featured in the retail range.
If you’re looking for something comforting during this time, head chef Naga’s braised lamb is the perfect comfort food. He’s done all the hard work, deboned and braised for hours, all you need to do is reheat. We’ve also sold a tonne of sides of chilli butter potatoes and broccolini with feta and Taranaki macadamias. That’s been surprising - but we figure our customers want to have one thing they don’t have to think about at all - their supper.
In the lead up to Christmas, we will also review our takeaway menu to start producing food for the festive season. Our cooking school is a production line on its own and since classes can’t resume until Level 1, we’ll need to make smart use of the space while paying our rent. Homeland as The Food Embassy has really come into its own during this period and we feel so fortunate to be part of the team that built it. It means so much to us to be able to continue to feed and say hello to our customers, and to knit together as a team delivering on our mission to enable Powerful, Tradable, Sustainable Kai in Aotearoa.
These innovations and pivotal shifts have come about because of lockdown and Level restrictions. Do you think some of these innovations will remain alongside regular trading or would you be concerned for the industry?
We are thankful that our floor area is large enough for social distancing measures. you will still see many of us (restaurants) continuing to do takeaways as it might take some time before we return to pre-Covid-19 normal levels.
I’d like to convey a big shout out to our hospitality friends who are already finding it incredibly tough, especially those in the CBD who rely on full teams working in central offices patronising their establishments. I know of friends and owners within the sector who unfortunately have not been spared and have had to close, it’s sad to see that after all the hard work that has gone into it.
Earlier this week, I also spoke with hospo friends in the UK who have had multiple bouts of lockdowns, one for 5 months, and further exacerbated with enormous skills shortages due to Brexit. Their restaurant models have been torn apart, with many having to close off up to 30% of their usual trading hours.
What do you think the landscape will be like for hospitality & dining when we re-emerge back into the “new normal” society?
We’re having it tough in a different way here in New Zealand and I don’t expect us to return to pre-Covid ’normal' for another 18 months at least and even then, I imagine tourist numbers will be well down for a few years after that. In order to survive, we need our local population to go out and enjoy our offerings, support small operators who likely have less resources to keep them afloat, and also head into the CBD to support those operators also. I’m also sure that high vaccination levels over both customers as well as hospitality operators and staff will be key to a stronger come back for our industry.