Food Heroes: Mike Murphy, Kokako Organic

Meet the stars of the food and drinks industry, Kiwi entrepreneurs determined to make the world a better place

Mike Murphy. Picture / Supplied.

It used to be that if you met the boss of an environmentally-friendly company, you could guarantee he or she would be a good person. Then environmental friendliness became something companies did because it was a useful marketing strategy, and suddenly it was more difficult to tell who was motivated by what.

The managing director of Kokako Organic, Mike Murphy, is one of the good ones, and I know this not just because he was doing sustainable, fair trade, low waste, ethical business before it was fashionable (he took on the business in 2007) but because almost every conversation you have with him is about somebody or something else.

The flagship Kokako Cafe has won multiple awards and Mike, of course, is charged with keeping the business profitable. But he is most passionate about unprofitable things: significantly reducing waste, building a relationship between poor coffee growers in Papua New Guinea and middle-class flat white drinkers in Grey Lynn, helping restore the kokako bird habitat in the central North Island. (I just used that word “passionate”, which has become so commonplace it’s almost invisible in a sentence. Mike reminds you of that word’s true meaning: feeling so strongly about something that it doesn’t occur to you not to put all the energy you have into pursuing it.)

He travels extensively, blogging his coffee-based discoveries in Singapore, Portland, Melbourne, for anybody who’s interested. His own cafe food is all vegetarian, but he doesn’t mention it in the marketing and customers often don’t notice. He doesn’t drink alcohol much anymore, because he worries it slows him down.

The cafe forms one arm of the business, and Mike still arrives at 7am each morning to check in with the team. But these days he primarily runs the roastery, a fast-growing wholesale business — earlier this year, to keep up with demand, he purchased a 25kg roaster to go with his existing 10kg one. He’s since installed a third machine.

Some of Mike’s floor staff have been with him eight years — a lifetime in the cafe industry. He took them with him on that trip to the native bird sanctuary, combining a working bee with a post-dinner brainstorming session. When he finally went to bed, the employees decided to stay awake and come up with more ideas — ways to streamline the business, to improve the customer experience, to give back more to the community. Mike dozed off on his camp stretcher to the sound of an in depth discussion on optimal milk temperatures. I’d be surprised if he’s ever slept better.

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New Zealand Herald

New Zealand Herald

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