Akito. Photo / Supplied

Community Is Everything To Akito, The Plant-Based Cafe In Waiheke's Oneroa Village

American Express’ Small Shop campaign encourages New Zealanders to support local businesses like, Akito on Waiheke who are serving up delicious takeaways to locals until visitors can safely return

Neighbourhood cafes and small restaurants are in the spotlight as New Zealanders aim to support local and celebrate the bounty of fabulous food on offer in Aotearoa, and American Express is helping drive that movement forward with its Shop Small campaign.

The launch is timely with many small businesses seeking to bounce back amid easing of restrictions in parts of the country and the company is working closely with the Restaurant Association of New Zealand to aid small business’ recovery. The association’s CEO Marisa Bidois is grateful for the support of American Express, and says Shop Small encourages the public to back the businesses in their neighbourhood. “The names, the faces, the people behind the shopfront are what make these restaurants and cafes so valuable to our communities,” she says.

Community is everything on Waiheke. One of the establishments in American Express’ local network is Akito, a thoughtful, plant-based cafe nestled in Oneroa that’s already famous for its brunch fare. Shantala Tengblad and Simon McNeish opened the doors at the beginning of 2020, two months before the first lockdown. Akito means ‘to do something slowly’ and the cafe embraces a different pace. “We chose that name primarily because it applies to our ‘slow food’ style, but it also translates as a lifestyle concept,” explains Shantala. “That’s the environment we’re trying to offer at our cafe, a place of calm, of pleasure and of meaningful food moments.

Being a part of those moments and helping to create that space for our customers is the best part of being a cafe owner.” She and partner Simon aim to hero the humble vegetable, and have a regenerative approach to the kitchen. It’s a simple mission that resonates with their community. “We see every day how our customers are trying to make a conscious effort to change,” she says, and Waiheke feels like the right place to do it. 

Akito owners Simon McNeish and Shantala Tengblad. Photo / Supplied

Why did you decide to open on Waiheke Island?
I grew up on Waiheke. All my family are here, as are all my childhood memories. I have a deep-rooted soul connection with the island, so it’s even more rewarding to be home again sharing my food. We are so blessed to have such a connected community who love and support each other. Having a business in my hometown is like having a very extended family. Waiheke is very much a ‘destination location’ so despite Covid trying to knock us back every now and again, we still seem to be thriving with visitors to the island (when we are not in lockdown that is).

Tell us about the concept of ‘slow food’ that is featured in your ethos?
It started with my passion for bread making. The practice of ‘slow bread’ was my meditation during my yachting days and from there stemmed an interest in pickling, preserving and fermentation. It’s the idea that great flavour is obtained when given time and attention. That’s what we try to apply to all of our dishes.

What measures has the business had to take in order to survive?
Opening our doors in a pandemic has been a challenge from the beginning. We’ve seen all our hard work take a huge hit through this recent lockdown and pretty much wipe out our bank accounts. We’ve struggled finding staff, especially in the kitchen but we are super blessed to have some key staff who keep the Akito spirit high, and give it the life and energy that I love so much. Covid has for sure made things difficult, but we are determined not to let it beat us, so we adapt the best way we can with what we have. We stay positive, we take care of one another, and we hope that by pushing on we can stay afloat. 

Akito. Photo / Supplied

What impact will New Zealanders make if they show their support for businesses like Akito?
Shopping small and local is so important. Especially through something so crippling to small business as a pandemic. Whether it’s your favourite local cafe, gift shop or bookstore, shop there. It’s the little guys that suffer the most and it’s through ‘our people’ that we have the ability to hold each other up. I know I’ll be doing my bit to support all of my favourite Waiheke businesses, because I love having them on this island and I don’t want that to change.

What does it mean to the business to be part of the American Express retail community?
We’re so grateful to be a part of this feature, and to tell our story through American Express. It’s helping to gain awareness of small businesses and boost consumer spending. They’re reminding people of the importance of spending within their communities and looking after one another.

Shop Small has returned to New Zealand for its second year. Founded by American Express, Shop Small aims to celebrate small businesses, highlight their importance within our communities and rally consumers to support them. There’s a win for shoppers too. If you save the Shop Small offer to your eligible American Express Card, you’ll receive $5 back for every $10 spent at participating small businesses online and instore.* Visit amex.co.nz/shop-small for more information on how to redeem the Shop Small Card Member offer and discover small businesses in your area.

*Up to 10 times. Offer ends 30/11/2021. Exclusions, T&Cs apply.

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