Kitchen Tips

Foodie destination: Florence’s Foodstore & Café, Wanaka

On the outskirts of Wanaka, surrounded by the dreamlike landscape and open spaces of Central Otago, Florence’s Foodstore & Café is a destination which embodies the heart and soul of the community.

By Harriet Keown
Photography: Stephanie of HANDMADE PHOTOGRAPHY
Wanaka is constantly expanding, with a growing sense of the hustle and bustle that was once associated only with its neighbour, Queenstown. That doesn't mean you can't find a place of stillness though; venture just out of town towards the Crown Range and you will find Florence's Foodstore and Café sitting on an unassuming corner, offering the perfect antidote to the lakefront's flurry.
An oasis of warm service and excellent food, set in a rustic cottage and lush garden courtyard, Florence's also houses an emporium which sells quality local and imported goods – making it the perfect place to while away a morning or afternoon. We talk to owner, Sharyn Mathias, about how Florence's achieves their intimate, homely dining-room atmosphere, their commitment to the local community and their vision for a more sustainable Wanaka.

Q: Can you tell us the story behind Florence’s?

We had come from Auckland where I had been a teacher for many years, with a new town offering the opportunity to take a new direction. Our daughter was always at me to get involved in food, so I decided to give it a shot. My ideas of what I wanted to do changed somewhat as I went along... Thank goodness I didn't really know what I was doing, or I may not have taken the jump!
The choice of name is an old family name. Wanaka already had a Ruby's and a Maude, so I thought it appropriate to choose another female name – and the first food market I ever went to was the mercato in Florence so it felt perfect.

Q: How does your Wanaka location influence your business?

We are on the outskirts of Wanaka township, as travellers enter from the Crown Range. Florence's is definitely a destination, with its garden and terrace looking out to snow-capped mountains in the winter, cherry-blossoms in the spring, autumnal hues and the dry heat of summer, making it appealing all year round. For many of our international visitors, they enjoy visiting due to our local feel.
Sharyn busy behind the counter.

Q: Where do you find inspiration for the dishes on your menu?

Many of the cakes are classic recipes from my mother's recipe book. We also do bite-size portions of slices at bite-size prices, for those who just want a sweet taster at the end. I am a real gastro-tourist , so food is number one on my travel itinerary. New Zealand has great food magazines, so I tend to peruse those rather than recipe books nowadays, although I have shelves of those waiting to be read on more leisurely days.

Q: What makes your menu memorable?

We have a café menu of cabinet and counter food, a breakfast and bagel menu and a specials board. Our menu is simple and provincial, and we aim for consistency. Eggs have to be free-range, and products locally sourced where possible. We enhance the taste of our food with our own grown herbs. Our 'Provincial Long Table' dinner on Wednesday nights is mainly simple French classics and everyone in the kitchen has a little bit to do with the preparation. These are very memorable nights.
Florence's Foodstore is filled with artisan local and imported goods.

Q: What is your favourite item on your menu, and why?

Our Croque Monsieur, which is basically a French toasted sandwich. I love hearing customers ooh and ahh when we describe its makeup – three cheeses, béchamel sauce and champagne ham between toasted bread. Hot, melted and gooey!

Q: What do you want Florence’s to be known for?

Our staff, The Florettes, and the relationships we have with many of our customers - our regulars, our visitors and our regular international visitors. Our staff are fabulous locals and others from all over the world, with some who come and go depending on where in the world the snow is! The ambiance of the café is reminiscent of a dining room - we are a gathering place where often three generations of families converge to share holidays or celebrations.
The café radiates with a welcoming, homely atmosphere.

Q: Are there any sustainable aspects of your business that you are most proud of?

Keighley, our long-term Florette, reminded me of the mantra, 'Think Globally, Act Locally'. Florence's went 'topless' last year, promoting the no coffee cup lid. We reduced our lid consumption quite markedly. Wanaka will embrace on a whole town scheme experiment at the end of the year – watch this space!
A good stock provides the depth of flavour in any dish, particularly, soups. We make ours from the cut-offs of vegetables, herbs from the garden, chicken bones or ham hocks. The rest of our food waste goes into our compost, which becomes a rich loam to return to the garden beds. Bread ends are fed to our garden birds. Of course, we have our own reusable shopping bag.

Q: Why should Kiwis be supporting local food businesses like Florence’s?

Kiwis should always support local. Local people need businesses for employment. At Florence's, we are a platform for local producers to showcase their products, often taking the risk of stocking them before a supermarket does. Most products are time-consumingly handmade, but have that wonderful ethos of hunting, gathering and foraging, which is so satisfying.
Florence's Foodstore and Cafe
71 Cardrona Valley Rd
8:30 am - 3:30 pm