In her green summer dress and straw trilby, long blonde hair drifting over her shoulders, skin the colour of ripe peaches, Tesh Randall stands out as an individual among the crowd in a busy cafe in Raglan – a town of individuals.
Her speech is rapid, words run into each other as they keep pace with her fast-moving trains of thought. That's the mind behind Raglan Coconut Yoghurt, which she and partner Seb Walter developed and are now selling in stores from Invercargill to Kerikeri. "And everywhere in between," says Tesh.
Seb's reaction to dairy kindled its creation. He'd sniff and cough in the morning but didn't want to give up yoghurt. The solution: make it themselves replacing the dairy component with coconut cream.
The first few batches were a little runny, but they soon had the recipe nailed.
Then an overrun in one batch saw them advertising the remainder, 60 people replied, and a business was born. "They all wanted to buy more for their friends and family. Now it's everywhere, and we're just trying to keep up with demand."
Their first foray into expanding the flavour range resulted in Blackcurrant and Heilala Vanilla, and Mango and Turmeric. Their natural, original flavour won the NZ Herald BITE Gourmet Award in the 2015 New Zealand Food Awards. Their latest creation is Banana and Chai.
"We're thinking on our feet all the time, otherwise you go out of business. The product has to be innovative to encourage sales or store people will say 'no, we don't want it any more". We stay innovative so it stays on the shelves."
They've introduced a range of pouches in natural, mango, berries and vanilla, and banana flavours; also Raglan Granola Jars. This cunning little creation includes locally made granola at the bottom of the jar, topped off with a pottle of their yoghurt.
"We're working in conjunction with other local brands, like Duck Island. They've done two icecreams using our plain yoghurt. Now all things are launched it's a matter of promoting them and getting them out there."
Little did the couple imagine when they moved from Auckland to Raglan they would venture into the food industry.
That was four years ago, for the more compatible lifestyle. Finding employment wasn't a problem, they own a digital agency and work from home.
"It involves marketing, branding, anything to do with the web, so marketing of the yoghurt is no problem, but learning about food and food preparation – that's a very complex area, especially yoghurt. It's got to be fermented at the right temperature."
Waikato, Tesh says, is a "special place, a unique place. People are very down to earth".
The scenery is amazing, there are bush walks, horse trekking and she can walk to the beach.
"Raglan has consistent surf and you don't get that in many places. We love to surf, we love the community, people are friendly and smiley, there are tons of things to get involved in – it's just a really nice place to live."
Being able to live in an environmentally-friendly town, eat local and organic, and trade their product for food is important to them. "We like living a lower-impact life. We have a big vege garden at home, which we bought just before prices went crazy, and we've planted fruit trees."
Born and brought up in Dargaville, Tesh lived in Christchurch until the earthquakes, when she migrated to Auckland. "I met Seb at a seminar on The Art of Happiness, run by an Indian monk. We got chatting afterwards and hit it off. We were friends for a year before we got together. We have a lot of interests in common, we both like business but we're both a bit hippy."
She is the eldest of four children, all home-schooled. That's made them resourceful, and a close family, she says. "There were no disadvantages. I think I would have been disadvantaged by uni. I've been working since I was 15, fulltime since I was 16."
Never a woman to stand still, Tesh is a published author of children's books and editor of a travel magazine. "I love reading – fiction and non-fiction – I'm always fascinated by the words. You learn so much – other's perspectives, other countries. It's the easiest way to travel without leaving the country, and I just like the way words fit together."
She's living the good life, Tesh says. "A very busy good life, much busier then we intended to be when we first came here to Raglan. I'm never going to leave."
BEST OF THE WAIKATO
Favourite coffee shop? How do you take your coffee?
I actually don't drink coffee but Mr Coconut (Seb) is a daily, often twice-daily, regular for a long black at hole-in-the-wall local favourite, Raglan Roast on Volcom Lane. He says the coffee is hands-down the best, so if I was going to start it would be there. They also make a nice chai latte, which is my pick.
Favourite brunch spot? What would you order?
We are lucky here with a bunch of awesome cafes, so we try mix it up by going to different ones. The usual rotation cycle is The Shack, Raglan Social Club, and Local Eatery. I'm a long-time fan of The Shack's chickpea fritters, which undergo a transformation with every new menu but are always there and always consistently delicious and filling.
We're more beach people than park people. Wainui Reserve is absolutely lovely, and combines the best of both by being only a short walk from the beach.
Best watering hole – what's your poison?
Alcohol literally makes me feel poisoned. Can't drink the stuff! So my type of watering hole looks more like a freshly squeezed juice from The Herbal Dispensary in town (I recommend the Rev Up with ginger added), or a tasty green smoothie from Two Birds Eatery when we're in the Tron.
Best date spot?
You can't beat a sunset surf at the main Raglan beach (so beautiful), followed by dinner at The Wharf Kitchen. They have really yummy food and the view over the water is lovely too.
Head up to Solscape, I tell everyone it's the best view in town. You can look right out from the deck over the waves rolling in. Their Conscious Kitchen Cafe does some gorgeous raw cakes and treats too.
Where would you take tourists?
We take our overseas visitors surfing, then to Raglan Food Department for a coconut yoghurt icecream, out to The Shack for lunch, and if they're the adventurous kind, for a rock-climbing or canyoning experience with Raglan Rock. Bridal Veil Falls makes for a pretty walk too, and we've done a few horse treks with friends out at Ruapuke beach with Wild Coast.
A fond food memory from the region?
First discovering Duck Island Icecream on Grey St in Hamilton. Amazing dairy-free icecream selection, I was so impressed.
Favourite weekend/holiday getaway in the Waikato?
We love staying at off-the-grid-type eco houses and getting inspired by their design ideas, so have checked out a few awesome places around the Waikato. Favourites would be Underhill Earth House (the full Hobbit experience) just out of Raglan in Whatawhata, and the Cob Cottage at Earthstead in Cambridge. Both beautifully designed places that look after you with delicious local produce as well.
What are you drinking?
If you head to the Raglan Creative Markets, you can try our friend Lenny's homemade lemonade and elderflower creations, which are super refreshing. He's also just started making nitro coffee. We're also big fans of Soul Organics' raw juices, based in Whakatane.
What Waikato product/produce can you not do without this season?
Apart from our yoghurt, of course, we go through a jar a day at home, we are loving our vege garden. It keeps us stocked up on tomatoes, courgettes, cucumbers, and lots of spinach and kale. For everything else we have our weekly vege bags from Whaingaroa Organic Kai, which features local plums, mushrooms and avocados, and pesto made by our friends Rick and Liz, Raglan Classic Granola, and the occasional loaf of Ruapuke Sourdough. We try to eat as local as possible and food tastes all the better for it.
Favourite day trip with the kids?
Raglan Coconut Yoghurt is our only 'baby', so day trips, when we're able to get away, usually look like heading to the East Coast for a surf and visiting stockists. We love Waihi, Tairua, and Whangamata for great camping spots and cute cafes.
What do you think is Waikato's best-kept secret?
It's got to be Raglan. We're amazed at how many Aucklanders have no idea where Raglan is and haven't visited yet. I've even met plenty of Hamilton folks who have never made it out here. It's getting busier each summer though, so the secret must be getting out.