Cafe Food and Wine Wanaka

Dynamic Duo at The Precinct

Written by Margo Berryman

From launching the leading-edge new retail complex The Precinct to opening her café Wee Tart and becoming a first-time mother the last twelve months has been a whirlwind for Wānaka business and retail development manager Mel Norman.

 “Designing and opening Wee Tart while finalising The Precinct’s build, retail leases and marketing has been very exciting but honestly much more challenging than I ever expected,” says Mel. “ I also do all the baking for Wee Tart which I love but energy levels have certainly been stretched with a new-born and lack of sleep.”

With a stylish New York inspired minimalist aesthetic and garden filled courtyard, both The Precinct and Wee Tart café has fast become a favourite among locals and visitors.

There is an eclectic mix of retail businesses offering fashion, beauty, homewares, plants and cakes and Mel says the café has become a real drawcard with an evolving food offering.

“ Pre Covid-19 we were doing a classic take on Kiwiana foods to appeal to tourists but with mainly local customers it’s more on trend food with an underlying ethos of diner style comfort. We serve healthy options to cater for the outdoorsy Wānaka crowd but fundamentally our menu is very different to what most local cafés offer.”

Together with her partner Sam Johnson, Mel has pivoted her lifestyle to meet the demands of a busy café, their baby Juniper and The Precinct’s day-to-day operations. 

“ My parents bought my brothers and I up with a ‘you make your own luck’ mantra and I always understood that everything they worked for was for our future. Sam has been raised the same way so I guess we have just adopted the same principles.”

“ I am extremely lucky as Sam has side stepped from his building career into managing the Wee Tart front of house. Pinnacles Childcare has looked after Juniper since she was three- months old and they provide a wonderful service. Looking back, it’s been stressful but also the most rewarding time of our lives.”

 Mel says The Precinct is primed to deliver a quality retail and hospitality experience over the summer holiday period.

“We have been open 12 months and are fully tenanted with an amazing line-up of shops and operators ready to welcome everyone. With an established courtyard and rooftop beer garden it’s one of the loveliest spaces in Wānaka to spend time this summer.”

Wee Tart Food Focus

A new “I’m vegan actually” menu section is a taste sensation at Wee Tart according to owner Mel Norman.

“ Banh Mi Vietnamese baguettes, Sunshine salad with Nuoc Cham Lime dressing,  our house made beetroot patties and the vegan chip buttie filled with shoestring fries and loaded with sauce are all delicious.”

“The most popular menu item is the poke bowl topped with our classic fried chicken – it’s  a colourful raw salad bowl with pickled vegetables, edamame beans, radish, coriander and spring onions on sushi rice topped with protein choices including five spice chicken, sweet and spicy fried chicken, grilled yakitori chicken skewers, char Siu BBQ Pork or grilled Haloumi. There’s also sweet and spicy fried tofu or five spice fried tofu vegan options.”

Most Wee Tart menu items are gluten and dairy free and the kitchen has 100 per cent gluten free deep fryers and a peanut free area to cater for all dietaries. 

Barista made coffee, smoothies, juices, milkshakes and sodas are available alongside freshly made cabinet foods and home style baking.

“Our famous muffs like the big bacon, egg and hash brown 70s muff or the smaller bacon and egg 90s muff are crowd pleasers,” says Mel. “We make decadent loaded milkshakes like the Vanilla Mountain shake with house made vanilla syrup, whipped cream, hundreds and thousands and a maraschino cherry. The salted caramel iced lattes are a delicious cold coffee option.”

The café’s upstairs rooftop area is open daily and on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings and has a relaxed and comfortable vibe.

“You need to be early to get a seat when the sun is out and it’s definitely the best spot in town to watch the sun go down. We offer table service for people drinking and dining on the rooftop with a great selection of cocktails, craft beers and wine at very reasonable prices.”

About the author

Margo Berryman