WORD OF MOUTH: Sugar High

The presence of delightful cafe Sugar High on Lawson could be described as an anomaly.

Opposite Learmonth Park in Hamilton South, it inhabits half of the building numbered 186 but has a postal address of number 188, which according to council records does not exist.

Its phone number cannot be found – yet – on the internet or in a phone book.

But this boutique-style cafe is well worth the effort to find, according to those spotted queuing outside its door a good 20 minutes ahead of opening time. During the nine years that cheery former mechanical engineer Jeff Aiken worked at The Labour Co-Operative Group on Darby Street with Pearl Daniels, the colleagues spoke often about the demanding jobs they had held.

When Aiken asked Daniels what she would have preferred to have done, she replied she would have liked to have owned a gift shop. He joked that he would be able to make more money operating a cafe.

When Aiken’s family began talking of his retirement, he decided to turn what started as a punchline into a viable business and asked Daniels if she wanted to indulge her enthusiasm for giftware.

Aiken bought the Lawson Street building six years ago and spent 15 months renovating the space, which had previously been a butchery and most recently a hairdresser.

The homely cafe is clearly unafraid to do things differently. Opening at 10am to avoid the before-work rush, there is no alfresco dining and the uncluttered space seats only 20 people. The playlist includes Doris Day and Dean Martin.

The aim is to encourage diners to slow down, take a deep breath and savour quality time with their companions.

‘‘There is no Wi-Fi, no newspapers – we want people to talk to each other and if they’re on their own we’ll talk to them,’’ softly spoken Daniels explains.

They are also unashamedly focused on making their customers feel spoilt.

Provided he is not in the kitchen or behind the counter, grandfather of two Aiken has been known to open the door for visitors as they arrive and leave, help mothers with prams and throw out coffees if a brew is not to a customer’s liking. The pair also like to surprise their regulars by giving them coffees on the house and supply baby cinos for free.

They take any leftover cakes to residents of Orchid Aged Care on Friday afternoons and when a recent batch of cupcakes didn’t rise as expected, they were offered to the children playing in the park.

Charming finishing touches include miniature bouquets of pink and white tulips on each table, heart-shaped spoons and fine china.

A tea room at the rear of the cafe features a chandelier and candelabras and is a popular venue for christenings, baby showers and high teas.

Recently a group of women in their 70s met in their furs, lace collars and hats for cucumber sandwiches.

The menu, which reads ‘‘Great coffee, scrumptious food, beautiful giftware and service with a smile – the only thing that could possibly make it better is you’’, features Peaberry’s Seattle blend coffee, teas, hearty and lighter lunches, cakes, pikelets and cookies. Daniels, a grandmother to six, prepares the lunches and bakes cakes from The Commonsense Cookery Book in her Jewells home at night, bringing treats including the mouth-watering sticky date pudding and vintage velvet chocolate cake with fresh cream to work each day.

Aiken lives above the cafe and starts baking and cooking chickens at about 5.30am. A relative newcomer to baking and barista work, his first foray into baking was using packet recipes and adding his own ingredients or flair for optimal results.

Occasionally the operation becomes a family affair with Aiken’s wife Julia taking orders and working at the till in her electric wheelchair and their daughters Richelle and Kristy helping to bake.

Daniels’s daughters Kelly and Cindy also contribute to the menu and Kelly creates handmade jewellery for the shop – she inherited her talent from her mother, whose artistic fingerprints can be seen throughout the cafe.

One entire wall showcases the bright giftwear that Daniels has selected at trade fairs and rearranges every week, including handbags, homewares, candleholders, slippers, hats and children’s toys.

It’s often hard to secure a table on Thursdays and Fridays and the duo sometimes has to turn people away. Booking ahead is advisable.

Taking their own advice to relax and recharge their batteries, the friends and their families spend at least two weeks every year water skiing and snow skiing.

Helen Gregory

Sugar High is open 10am to 4pm weekdays. 188 Lawson Street, Hamilton, 49616626.

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop