Auckland lockdown disruptions lead to good fortune in Tokoroa for Korean café owners

Lumberjacks Coffee Roastery owners Eddie Chae and MG Jung believe opening in Tokoroa during the global pandemic was a risk worth taking.

LUKE KIRKEBY/Stuff

Lumberjacks Coffee Roastery owners Eddie Chae and MG Jung believe opening in Tokoroa during the global pandemic was a risk worth taking.

Fleeing Auckland lockdowns to open a café with a Korean twist in South Waikato was a gamble that’s paying off for Eddie Chae and MG Jung.

With over 70 per cent of New Zealand’s Korean population, just over 25,000, living in Auckland, moving to a district where the entire population is roughly the same didn’t exactly make sense for their business plan.

But after 10 years of working in the café sector in central Auckland and prolonged lockdowns due to Covid, Chae, 36, and Jung, 31, have no regrets.

They’ve just opened Lumberjacks Coffee Roastery in Tokoroa’s Bridge St offering a rare blend of Wellington based L’affare coffee and cabinet food such as sandwiches featuring the traditional marinated beef dish Bulgogi, which has been flying out the door.

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“Originally we wanted to be a coffee roastery and we’d planned to open in Auckland offering quality coffee and food with a Korean flavour to it,” Chae said.

“We were worried our plan was based around the market there but after the first lockdown we felt trapped and isolated from my parents who moved to Tokoroa three years ago, so we looked at our business plan and realised it matched what could be done in Tokoroa also.

“There was room in the market for us to come in and everyone has been so welcoming.

“A lot of people might think it’s just a countryside town and will be too scared to try something here but locals are willing to try something different and they really appreciate you. We have been selling out of our bulgogi sandwiches.”

MG Jung and Eddie Chae worked in Auckland cafés for 10 years before opening their own in Tokoroa.

LUKE KIRKEBY/Stuff

MG Jung and Eddie Chae worked in Auckland cafés for 10 years before opening their own in Tokoroa.

Chae, who comes from the coastal city Busan in South Korea, said whilst they can’t yet sell roasted coffee beans due to Covid disrupting supply chains, their L’affare coffee was also proving popular.

“We have been really lucky to have one of their blends which is used in their College St café in Wellington. The blend we use really stands out because it is only offered at that café,” he said.

“It is very fruity and chocolatey which is the direction I wanted to go with our coffee.

“The trend has changed over the years due to people’s understanding. In New Zealand it’s become an everyday drink and people have really started to appreciate the quality which is something we concentrate on and the secret is to focus on every little detail.

“What people don’t really see, which a lot of people do in Auckland, is we set a recipe and follow it. We weigh the coffee grinds so we know how much coffee is going in.

“It is really about focusing on that quality and consistency and if you make a mistake you should be able to recognise that and not give it to a customer.

“Customers are the ones who will tell us if it is good or not so be honest with them. That is how you get repeat customers.”

Lumberjacks Coffee Roastery in Tokoroa's Bridge St is the town's newest café.

LUKE KIRKEBY/Stuff

Lumberjacks Coffee Roastery in Tokoroa’s Bridge St is the town’s newest café.

Jung, who moved to New Zealand from South Korea’s capital Seoul at age 15, said he was loving Tokoroa’s slower pace of life.

“It is a lot more chilled and relaxed down here compared to Auckland. Auckland is very competitive,” he said.

Chae said it was that competitiveness, however, that’s got them at the top of the game.

“In Auckland we worked in the CBD which is like a jungle when it comes to competition, there is café after café right next door to each other, so having customers that followed us to where we were working made it a joy to work in the industry,” he said.

He encouraged others businesses thinking about leaving the big smoke to jump at the opportunity places like Tokoroa have to offer.

“The South Waikato District Council has been really helpful, they have been the easiest people to deal with which would have been different in Auckland,” he said.

“Yes it is a risk to open a business at the moment but if you can put a smile on someone’s face with what you have to offer you shouldn’t be afraid.”

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