New vegetarian venue in Hamilton’s south end

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By Kyra Dawson

The newest kid on Hamilton’s south end dining block is shunning meat and embracing people.

Yalla Yalla café was 15 months in the making and now that it’s finally here, owner Dave White says there’s still a lot he and his team want to achieve.

“’Yalla Yalla’ is an Arabic term for ‘let’s go’ or ‘hurry up’ and after 15 months’ planning the name definitely seemed to suit. We were keen to bring something a little different and getting impatient. The actual inspiration for Yalla Yalla came from a Joe Strummer song of the same name.”

He realises the idea of having café with only vegetarian and plant-based food on the premises is something of a new concept, but believes Hamilton is ready to embrace it.

“The decision was made easier by seeing a café in Te Awamutu – a meat-eating heartland, with dairy farmers all around – that had no meat on the premises.”

That was the now-closed Walton Street.

“We thought, if Te Awamutu can make it happen, it’s kind of weird Hamilton hasn’t made it happen.

“It’s not an aggressive anti-meat crusade, we just cook good food, which happens to be vegetarian.

“I think this niche definitely needed to be filled. There’s a lot more awareness when it comes to veganism or vegetarianism and with that awareness comes the desire to have a good dining experience based on those values.”

Dave said giving up meat had been a learning curve for him and now he wanted to share it with others in a gentle fun way.

“I became quite close friends with a vegan and started to become informed with what it’s all about.

“I come from a meat-eating family so it was quite a change, but over the years you just start to make decisions based on how you can contribute to the planet.

“For me, it was around issues of sustainability for meat eating and there are better ways to serve the worlds needs through food choices. So to make that personal choice was just me doing my bit.”

And those aren’t his only values. Dave wants his new café to be a ‘peoples’ café’ – a social enterprise.

“We want to pay our bills and our staff as well as we can and then, after that, we want to do what we’re calling ‘good in the hood’.

“We haven’t fully decided what that will look like. It could mean a whole lot of things. To start with, it’s just being here and getting a sense of what can be created.

“But one thing we are quite passionate about, and which is gaining momentum, is working with refugee families, which Hamilton has a strong community with.”

He said they were hoping to find “foodies” in each of those families and work with them.

“The cooks could potentially come in after we close at 3pm and prep a meal and do a night serve around 6 or 7pm. That would be a way that we could give dignity to these people and their story, and the public can experience their food – which is a serious win-win for everyone.

“You could have a week of Syrian meals, a week of Colombian meals, just however it works. We don’t want to dictate and we’re just gaining trust with those relationships now and wanting to see what they bring to the table.”

Dave said Red Cross, who work with many of those families, believed it was a great idea.

“If we can create a community around our food and coffee, and make some money and space to share around doing good in the hood, that’s the social enterprise side to it that we are looking forward to.”

Dave was previously a teacher, but further back than that he worked in a café on Auckland’s K Road in the mid ‘90s with his wife Chris.

The last 14 years he’s been working on city events like Trees at the Meteor and Stations of the Cross with relief teaching on the side. Thinking of what he wanted to achieve next, he remembered the good old café days, but this time he was keen to make the café his own.

“People are loving the vibe. The first week was out-of-control good. Now we are getting word out and building a community around us. The future looks really bright, especially once we open weekends and nights. I think that will be really good for us because not everybody can come between Monday and Friday.”

As time goes on Dave hopes to be able to locally source most of Yalla Yalla’s products.

“We are trying to source locally as much as we can. We have a kombucha drink that’s brewed in Hillcrest called Gutsy and Manuka Brothers’ coffee is a good local roast. We also have our own pastry chef creating treats and his own bagels.”

At the moment Dave has five staff but is hoping to take on more when he extends opening hours. There’s a very sunny courtyard out the back that they are working on and hopes to have it open for summer.

Yalla Yalla Café is at 198 Victoria Street, Hamilton. – Story courtesy of The Waikato Story.

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