Kai Connoisseurs is a small whānau business that started out in 2019 selling dumplings to whānau and friends. Almost 3 years later we have steadily grown and evolved into a Catering Company, Café and Community Kaupapa.

Our values are very much based on a Māori world view.

Manaakitanga - We believe that it is a privilege to serve and take care of others.

Kaitiakitanga - We believe that it is everyone's responsibility to take care of things entrusted to us.

Kotahitanga - We believe that together, we are stronger and that where there is unity, there is a blessing.

Our business is focused on purpose, and people. We believe that with our vision, hearts, skills and talents we can build a better future for ourselves, our whānau and our community.

"The purpose of business is to solve the problems of people and planet profitably, and not profit from causing problems."

~Principals of purposeful business.

Mō te kai, mō te hononga, mō te mātauranga

For the love of food, the need for connection and the gift of knowledge

Ko Ngāi Tahu raua ko Ngāti Kahungungu nga iwi
Ko Sachiko Shimamoto ahau

I am the Founder and Director of Kai Connoisseurs, I started this business for my whānau, and they have all been a huge part of the development and growth of this pakihi.

I am of Māori and Japanese decent, I have three children and a huge whānau. I grew up down south, but have lived in Ōtautahi, mostly Aranui for 17 years. This is the place I call home. I love God, I love my whānau, food and fitness. I am passionate about hauora and have a heart for helping others.

I can't tell you exactly how this all came to be, because much of this journey has been guided by things far outside of my imagination and control. One thing I can tell you is that connection is key, and I don't mean connection to people (although that is very important too!) connection to self, to wairua and to Te Ao helps us to lead our lives in the direction we are called.

As mentioned earlier, we started by selling dumplings. At the time I was studying and my brother was staying with me. Finances were tight (as they can be when you are a student, raising three tamariki alone) and we needed some putea. We put it out there to see if anyone wanted to buy our dumplings, invested some of our grocery money and brought ingredients to make them. Harnessing the power of social media, we sold out whenever we posted up a sale. We repeated the cycle until we had saved up a little bit of putea.

Randomly one day, a friend asked if I would cater for a Wananga they were having, I jumped at the opportunity and with the help of my beautiful friend we cooked up a storm and created a beautiful feast! It was no coincidence that a stunning wahine at this Wananga came in the kitchen looking for whoever had made the Vegan Dumplings and asked if we would be interested in more mahi! My answer was of course YES!

The third event that put the wheels in motion was when we got the call up to cater at Rapaki Marae, it was a last minute thing. Less than 24hrs to cater for 30 people for 3 days. I took a breath, said a karakia, made a plan, called the cuzzies and off we went! Little did I know the hui we were catering was for some very important, influential people and a business card was requested multiple times!

The rest is, well history! After that I was regularly contacted with catering requests and it wasn't long before I was faced with the decision to give up study or start a business. It was tough, but after I prayed about it, I felt that embracing the opportunities opening up in front of me was the right path to take.

Fast forward a few months and we became registered...gst, nzbn, council you name it! When I wasn't in the kitchen my time was spent researching, networking, learning as much as I possibly could about starting a business. A few special people reached out and offered their support, it meant so much and made a big difference in our journey. Simply knowing that someone believes in you and has your back is a like a gust of wind that propels you forward when the horizon is flat and confidence is lacking.

I want to make a special mention and huge mihi to Helen Leahy, and the team at Te Pūtahitanga o te Waipounamu. Her love, encouragement and support was one of the contributing factors in our leaps forward and we will be forever grateful to them for believing in us and our vision.

Another big step was declaring income and coming off govt support. That was definitely scary. Being self employed was terrifying, I had to work hard to change my mindset and learn a new way of managing money. Becoming an employer was also a huge step, not only was this pakihi now providing for me and my whānau, it was providing for others too! That was a whole different level of accountability.

I could go on and on about all the things I have learnt, the miraculous ways that things have come together or the grace that saves me everyday...perhaps one day I will elaborate. For now I just want to say...all things are possible, no dreams are too big. One foot in front of the other is all that is required to walk towards your future, you choose in which direction you go and who you let guide and influence you.

We are almost 3 years old, and although we have come a very long way, there is still a long way to go. We have so many ideas, dreams and visions for the future and we've only just begun! I've found that the more I learn, the more I realise I've barley scratched the surface. I will forever be in a state of student, knowledge and wisdom are immeasurable.

It truly has been, and is, an incredible journey. I wake up every day filled with gratitude.
Thank you for your curiosity, for reading a snippet of our story and we hope that it might be an encouragement and inspiration for anyone with a dream!

"The purpose of life is to find your gifts, and give them away"

Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can...

Just do, the next best thing.

In 2020 the mahi began to fit out our whare
In 2020, when the first lockdown hit, we started thinking of ways to keep our business afloat. With all of our catering bookings canceled and limited options we explored the possibility of opening a shop. We had always dreamed of taking the leap one day, but one day became today.

With determination and courage we created a menu and tested it within our community and recieved an overwhelming response! We sold out almost every night, so we immediately started looking for a space to set up. One thing lead to another and before we knew it we were in a hui with Richard, a beautiful Godly man and very well known leader in Aranui who founded Crossroads Youth with a Future; and Tepaki his right hand man and now leader of Crossroads.

The café that once was Café 53 was vacant, however they were not looking to lease this special, beautiful space to just anyone. Richard's heart and vision was for the people, and the vision of the board, for this space, was very much community focused. As I shared my heart with him and the dreams that God had placed within me the doors began to open.

The dreams, visions and plans grew and we could see the many possibilities on the horizon coming into fruition. Having a café/space ment that we could put the wheels in motion on the many kaupapa that we had in mind. With the help of Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu and Wave 11 we were able to begin renovations. It took around 7 months to complete the mahi. It was an incredibly testing time of accelerated learning and growth. Having the support of Te Pūtahitanga o Te Waipounamu was a game changer, we were so blessed to be apart of Wave 11 and recieve the awhi that we did, the hand that we needed to get up and get going.

So many whānau jumped in to awhi, it was the most amazing effort. We transformed the space into our own, got verified and registered with the council and opened the doors in April 2021. The rest is, well not history because it's been a rollercoaster ever since! With various challenges, lockdowns and mandates we have shifted, swiveled and changed directions in line with what we believe to be right, and safe. And we will continue to make the best decisions we can with our values at the core.

We are so incredibly grateful to be here. We are so incredibly thankful for all of the love and support from our whānau, friends and community. Without out them, we would not be here! And that is one of the reasons we so deeply believe in the power of community.
Join us and be part of our whānau
Visit our café, enjoy our food at your own event or join our community.