Forty Years of Falafel Freak Flag Flying

by Insiders Dunedin

40 years ago, vegetarianism would have been thought strange in Dunedin. As strange as a woman having an opinion, or smoking being bad for you. Not so anymore.

"Vegan food especially has gone mad,” says Potpourri owner Hilary Proctor who, with husband Craig, gave up their respective careers as a pharmacy technician and auto electrician to be the latest owners of the famously friendly vegetarian café. The menu still features the classics: baked potatoes, organic whole wheat salad and coleslaw from the original recipe book, “if it’s not broken we don’t change it,” says Craig. The chilli sauce for the vegan pies is from the old days too – as well as new additions locally made Beam Me Up Bagels and the sweetest, freshest hazel nuts from Crayz N Nuts Balclutha.

Potpourri has survived 40 years on lower Stuart Street, a remarkable feat when the world has changed as much as what people want from their food. The truth is Potpourri was simply ahead of its time and Dunedin, a place where avocados were once viewed with suspicion, or stuffed with shrimp cocktail, has finally caught up. In an industry where the average café is rebranded or sold every two years, 40 is a loooong time. Potpourri was opened (the exact date is a bit murky, but they say if you can remember the 70s….), by a group of people who did yoga at the nearby leisure centre (apparently there used  to be parties downstairs in a hippy crash pad beneath the café, which is also where the fabulous painted chairs outside were found), the fall of Saigon was fairly recent news, a consortium was talking about building an aluminium smelter at Aramoana and most restaurants pretended they hadn’t heard of vegetarians who, if they were lucky, got cottage cheese and pineapple in a lettuce cup and the ill-disguised pity of all present.

The café was fitted out with a truck load of Rimu and stained glass from the former Little Sisters of the Poor home for the elderly, the reason for its ‘praise be’ feel. The tables were originally fixed to the wall, although Craig and Hilary have since had to unscrew them because New Zealanders have gotten bigger and want more personal space. Being close to the railway station, Potpourri hosts lots of tourists and people who don’t realise it’s a vegetarian café, just a warm lovely place with awesome food. The café boasts a secret room off to one side for romantic rendezvous and lunchtime conversations that can’t be overheard. The arched stained-glass window illuminates Craig’s saintly kitchen endeavours and the food cabinets’ brightly coloured salad selection. All is good here, still.

8 - 4pm Monday to Friday

9 – 3pm Saturday, opening Sundays from November.

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Post submitted by Lisa Scott

Photography by Sharron Bennett



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