The Carterton-born woman with to Rangitāne and Ngāti Kahungunu always wanted to own her own business. That dream became a reality two years ago when she opened the doors of Kāinga Eatery on Carterton’s main street.
“The time felt right — I resigned from my job and invested in Kāinga, got advice from a business adviser, researched, employed experienced chefs and made my dream a reality,” says Shelley Rutene.
“I have an intimate connection with the land here. I’m so proud to be operating as a Māori-owned business in the town I grew up in. I’m definitely living the dream though it’s hard work!”
Shelley employs 10 other staff, all of whom abide by Kāinga’s three core values — , and , — instilled in her from a young age.
“Our values underpin everything we do. We don’t just want them to be empty gestures. We want to fully embody what they mean. I reflect on them every day,” says Shelley. “Our staff also embrace all three of our core values, and that is passed on to our customers in the quality of food and service we provide.”
Manaakitanga underpins all Kāinga’s relationships with staff, customers, food, workplace and suppliers alike.
In the workplace, kotahitanga creates an environment where staff feel supported and inspired to grow individually and as a team, and they work together to achieve goals.
The third core value, ahurei, encourages individuality and authenticity among staff.
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That cultural lens has earned Shelley and the Kāinga team recognition in the form of the inaugural Pakihi Māori Award at last year’s Wairarapa Business Awards. “To be named as a finalist was one thing, but to win absolutely blew us away. It’s not just me though, it’s a team effort,” says Shelley.
With a background in office administration and early childhood education, and as a mother of four and three herself, Shelley is big on .
True to te reo meaning of the word , her aim is to ensure customers feel at home in her cafe. “When I was thinking about the name for my café, Kāinga really resonated with me. Home means warmth, love and comfort, sitting around the table eating good food, laughing and relaxing with whānau, and I wanted to create the same feeling in my café.
“It’s important to me that people feel looked after and feel comfortable.”
Shelley is also proud of the fact that the 2022 business accolade highlights Māori-owned businesses operating in the Wairarapa. “I didn’t realise how many Māori businesses existed in Wairarapa before the awards. They are diverse and multi-faceted with expertise and knowledge in various fields, and they’re not always what people typically think of when they envisage a Māori business.
“For instance, the region has a Māori-owned construction company, a wine bar and even a beauty salon. I now know I am not alone and have like-minded people to reach out to for support or advice.”
As for Matariki, Shelley says the time to reflect and celebrate te ao Māori is an everyday occurrence at Kāinga. “We live and breathe mātauranga Māori every day in our mahi, but still, Matariki for me is a time to reflect on the year that’s been, the people that have passed and think about my aspirations for the year ahead, both professionally and personally.
“Most of all, it’s a time for togetherness and being with my whānau.”