Food hub to fill gap in the market

LAURA BASHAM
Last updated 07:53 24/12/2013
Streat Kitchen
MARTIN DE RUYTER/FAIRFAX NZ

AL FRESCO DINING: Some of the Streat Kitchen cart's first customers tuck into lunch served up in a vacant lot between buildings in Bridge St.

Streat Kitchen
MARTIN DE RUYTER/FAIRFAX NZ
STREET EATS: Tami Mansfield and Michael McMeekan with their new Streat Kitchen business in Bridge St.

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The vacant site where a building was demolished on Bridge St is taking on new life with a plan to turn it into a street food hub and lunchtime park.

It has started with Streat Kitchen, run by chef Michael McMeeken and his partner Tami Mansfield, who have plans for others to join them.

The idea has been inspired by a visit to Ms Mansfield's hometown Portland in Oregon where the city centre has food cart villages.

''They have 60 food carts lined up side by side, taking up one and a half city blocks.  It was incredible seeing on Monday lunchtime the footpaths packed with people just for the food carts."

''They had every type of food - French, Egyptian, fish and chips, dumplings.  The most popular was for a cart that sold just one item, a Mexican salad with some secret sauce,'' said Mr McMeeken.

They also found ''cart pods'', usually in a little car park or a section of land, some with six food stalls, others up to 20, including a beer cart.

''They had put in a bit more effort, had a few tables and a bit of landscaping, and that's what I'm hoping to achieve here,'' he said.

The Bridge St site now has the rough ground covered in a floor of crushed mussel shells and customers sit on blue chairs around cable reel tables.

The Streat Kitchen is fitted out with a professional kitchen and Mr McMeeken cooks each dish fresh, offering a fish, meat or vegetarian  option daily.

He has worked in top overseas restaurants for 10 years, including for Gordon Ramsey and Marcus Wareing in London and Thomas Keller in New York.

In Nelson he worked at the Boat Shed Cafe, and now with his Streat Kitchen he wants to provide restaurant-style food in a street takeaway environment.

''There are a lot of food carts doing sushi and baked potatoes but nobody is doing restaurant-style food to order.  That's what my training is in and it's possible to do it fast.''

On his first day he was searing pork with beans and pickled onions, serving orange roughy with crushed peas, mint, and new potatoes, and his vegetarian dish was Romano's tomatoes with basil and fresh buffalo mozzarella.

Customer Bob Berry said: ''I'm surprised to have this quality food without the bricks and mortar (of a restaurant).''

Next month a Filipino food cart will be the first of others to join the site.

Mr McMeeken has a vision for the site to become eco-friendly, including using solar power, and seasonal local produce.

His ideas for using the site by coincidence were similar to those of Nelson architect Rachel Dodd, of Arthouse Architecture.

She had approached the site owner, Brian Jones, with the idea of creating a portable pocket park, and he put the two in contact with one another.

''We had similar visions to create something special in the heart of Nelson,'' said Ms Dodd, who is also a trustee of the City of Nelson Civic Trust.

The trust has provided some seed funding for tables, trees and planters, and everything must be mobile so it can be moved to other sites.

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''People are concerned that there will be other buildings coming down. It's important that the people of Nelson can see empty spaces being used in a positive way and putting life back into the city,'' she said.

Her idea to use the empty site came about through wanting an outdoor place to eat her lunch, and hopes other city workers will use it, even if they bring along their own lunch.

Funds to develop the set up are also being raised through PledgeMe.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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