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Raglan barista full of beans over his wharf coffee shop

Whaanga Coast barista Stephen Sandwell can hardly believe his luck — making coffees every weekend down at Raglan Wharf from a small corner shop he’s set up right next to Tony Sly Pottery.

Despite working in sales during the week in Hamilton, it’s the art of making good coffee that really gets him going. “That’s what I like to do,” he says simply.

Stephen’s looking forward to the wharf becoming fully functional again — replacement of the old building ravaged by fire is due for completion mid-year — but says it’s still a “really happening place”.

With trawlers coming and going, visitors to Tony Sly’s studio next door and Rob Galloway’s luxury silo apartments attracting out-of-town clientele, he reckons the wharf’s already got a good vibe. It was while leisurely biking around there on Sunday afternoons last year that the idea of his own small wharfside business came to him.

He’d completed a barista course in Sydney last year and has had a mobile coffee caravan on the go — not, as he’d hoped, in Raglan but at a garden centre in Cambridge where weekend business was a bit slow.

Trying to get either premises or permit here in Raglan was difficult, Stephen told the Chronicle. Although Australian-bred, he and his family have lived in town for 30 years now and he’s been looking for local business opportunities for the past two years.

Luckily last August he found a “sympathetic” landlord of the one remaining wharf building, which until recently housed a massive yacht-building project.
From there it was just a matter of working with Waikato District Council — which he rates as “the best call service in the country” — and following all the rules and regulations including a stringent fire engineer’s report until the permit was granted right on Christmas.

He credits help with the endless hours of consent paperwork and tricky translations to Madagascan-born designer Domoina Ralaimihoatra who also lives in Raglan.

Now Stephen’s thriving on the congeniality down at the wharf and getting a good response from his coffee-drinking customers. “I’ve worked in hospitality for 20 years,” he explains. “I have a love of it.”

Edith Symes

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