Written by John Williams
Photography by Jamie Cobel
It’s a sunny winter’s morning, with just a suggestion of spring in the air, and I’ve arranged to meet Buoy’s new owner in that quiet time for cafés, between services. As I walk in, I’m politely greeted by Ginette and offered a coffee, which is very good, by the way.
“I’m a water person,” she says, looking out over the marina. “I used to work on the boats, as a chef. Auckland has very few locations like this, and this spot was very under utilised, and although it was pretty run down, it still had a loyal clientele,” she adds.
“I was actually thinking that I wanted to sell Salta and go and live in Spain for a while,” smiles, Ginette. “But, then, every time I walked past [Buoy], I thought, what a great spot. What an opportunity."
Ginette’s vision for the décor of her new venture was ‘original, old-school bach’, and I think she’s nailed it. “I’ve got one at Ocean Beach, up at Whangerei Heads, and I love it,” she says. “People chill out when they’re in simple, comfortable unpretentious spaces.” Befitting its maritime location, Buoy’s revamped interior has a subtle nautical vein running through it, punctuated by potted plants hanging in macramé nets, and nostalgic ephemera.
Looking forward to the summer, Ginette plans to cater to local boaties – not only as sit-down clientele, but also offer them pre-made meals to take away on their excursions out on the harbour. “We should also be getting a licence soon, so we will be open in the evenings. Not too late,” she adds. “Just until after the sun goes down. A simple menu, with casual dining.”
“I want Buoy to be a community café, not just a cool café. "
"I want to build up a regular clientele who know us and we know them… like a Salta by the sea,” she smiles. “Salta is such a well-oiled machine, and that’s the level I want to get Buoy to.”
So what is it that has made Salta such a success in what is arguably Auckland’s most competitive Café suburb?
“You’ve got to genuinely love what you do, and being owner-operator is essential,” she tells me. “I also treat my staff very well. They are all part of my family. Building that kind of loyalty and trust works both ways. It’s lovely to build these relationships,” she adds. Ginette goes on to tell me that a large percentage of her customers at Salta are regulars, and that she and her staff know them all by name – and that’s important, too.
She also says that coffee is the fundamental thing you’ve got to get right. “If you’re passionate about the coffee, then the chances are you’re passionate about everything else in your café.”
“I’m all about the details. Get those right and the rest will fall into line,” she says, casting a glance around her own establishment. “It bugs me, for instance, as I look down this row of tables that the chairs aren’t all lined up and the salt and pepper cellars aren’t where they should be.”
“I’m a perfectionist,” she adds. “It’s impossible, I know, but I never stop trying. I always try to make things better – I guess that’s part of my success.”
Ginette grew up in Whangarei, but has lived in Ponsonby most of her life. She proudly describes herself as a ‘Ponsonby girl’, and absolutely loves living in the area. “I can get to work in 7-8 minutes, and everything’s on my doorstep.”
“People like to be where everybody is – and everyone goes to Ponsonby.”
She smiles as she describes Three Lamps as the forgotten end of Ponsonby. “It’s full of scrappy little shops, but it has a great village, community atmosphere to it. It’s the last piece of Ponsonby yet to be gentrified.”
“It definitely needs some love,” she says. “I’d like to see the landlords put a bit of effort in, bringing their properties up to date – painting, repairing and fixing them up. I’d also like to see the rents drop, to encourage new tenants, rather than leaving properties empty,” she adds. Her vision would be to see it turned it into a more pedestrian precinct, like they have down at Wynyard or Fort St, where the road is cobbled and cars have to slow down going through – “Not that they rush at the moment,” she says.
“Since Ponsonby Central opened there has been a non-stop flourish of new cafes and restaurants along the whole length of Ponsonby Road. I can’t see them all staying around for a long time, though. There are just too many places to buy coffee now, and they don’t stop opening.”
She says she sometimes try new places, if a friend has recommended them. “But I mainly stick with the stalwarts – Ponsonby Rd Bistro, Blue Breeze Inn and, of course, SPQR. I also like The Engine Room, across the bridge in Northcote Point. You just know you’re not going to get let down and not letting anyone down is part of my philosophy.'
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