Oaken - Stop, Collaborate and Listen

by Insiders Dunedin

Cafes are funny places, aren’t they? Strangely intimate, a cross section of humanity together in a shared space. We tell baristas the most amazing stuff about our lives: some days the act of buying coffee is the only nice part of it and talking to cafe staff the only real-world conversation you’ll have − apart from those with your cat, and they’re always a bit one-sided.

Feeding people and making them coffee looks like a simple transaction but on a deeper level it says, ‘I see you, I hear you. You matter.’ This is the thinking behind Oaken, run by mother and son team Linda Huggins and Sam Fleury. Only three months old, this new venture is the result of much collaboration, not only between a builder influenced by the container malls of Christchurch and a graphic designer with a love for simplicity, but each other; although home-schooled Sam learnt how to collaborate with his mum a long time ago. “I’ve never worked for anyone else,” he says. I’ll leave you to contemplate sharing every hour of the working day with your mother in your own time. I’d wake in the night screaming, but that’s just me.

Oaken used to be a carpark. Now it’s a great place to park yourself. ‘Oaken’ because of the Northern oaks whose tops add green triangles to the view from upstairs, a wonderful historic cityscape of old villas marching up the hill to Roslyn, and because it’s a solid-sounding name. Solidity and fairness is everything here. Staff, who are paid the living wage, are able work around their own creative lives, enjoy a balance that makes them happy. This in turn makes for genuinely happy interactions with customers. Linda, who hates being a grown up, nevertheless wants to create a community and a system that’s self-sustaining. “Sounds lofty,” she admits. At least I think that’s what she said, she might also have said ‘wafty’. “Maybe wafty as well.” Whatever it is, a community of sorts is already developing, people bumping up against each other: travellers, students, laptop scribes; all engaging, working, sharing personal moments amidst the noisy camaraderie of staff chatting with customers and each other, a warm burble punctuated with taps and clinks of cups and cutlery, the hiss and snort of the coffee machine.

These blurred lines are a privilege, says Linda, as is being a constant in people’s lives, hearing about their setbacks and tiny triumphs. I’m moved to quote the philosopher Barbara Streisand: ‘people, helping people, are the luckiest people in the world.’ The door opens to let in a repeat customer, returning to let their friends in on the secret. Oaken won’t be a secret for long. Luckily.


Post submitted by Lisa Scott




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