STACEY AND SHELDON MCEWEN - SEQUOIA EATERY
Mention the Redwoods in Rotorua and most people’s thoughts will turn to the magnificent 55,000 hectare Whakarewarewa Forest which dominates the landscape in the eastern suburb of Lynmore. It is home to some of the best mountain biking in the world and a recreational area that sees hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Tapping into this jewel are Stacey and Sheldon McEwen, who, along with their two young sons, have chosen to make Rotorua their home and the towering Redwoods (sequoia) the backdrop for their new venture, the Sequoia Eatery.
This family have lived in Rotorua for less than a year, having packed up their lives in Napier in August 2015. In that time, they have found and bought a house, moved city, settled children into school, renovated a building, recruited staff and opened their stylish café. Stacey is full of enthusiasm: “At the time it was all go, go, go and very exciting as things fell into place!” The decision to move was heavily swayed by a desire to live closer to family and to the outdoor facilities they love. Sheldon is an avid long distance trail runner, including ultra-marathons, and has recently joined the local Trail Running Club. The whole family enjoys water skiing and wake boarding, which has become a whole lot easier now they can get to the lakes in 10 minutes after work.
The couple had for a while been thinking about going into business together for themselves. Stacey recalls, “Rotorua’s attraction for us was the business prospect, the lifestyle, the opportunities for the children and being close to family. We looked at a couple of other cafés in Rotorua and Taupo, but we preferred the size of this one and the great location close to the Redwoods and lakes. We wanted something that could be a bit of a challenge as well, with potential to do something remarkable with it. We don’t want to be ‘just another café’! My sister and her husband run Quest Rotorua Central and have been great mentors helping us set up the business. It’s really all just fallen into place.”
In the short time the café has been operating, the couple have already introduced seven-day opening and tapas evenings with live music and local beer and wines. With the leaves turning and the days shortening, their thoughts are now turning to opportunities for customers to hunker down over the colder winter months. The recent employment of a Restaurant Manager will give them some breathing space. “We literally arrived and started straight away with the day-to-day running of the business. In the first few months we’ve had a lot of support from the locals who really want this place to go well. We haven’t done much marketing, but we’re now going to focus on trying out our new ideas.” Stacey’s energy is infectious.
Living just a few minutes up the road from work and school has freed up a lot of time for the family to spend doing the things they love. In addition, the boys can bike to school or walk with the Walking School Bus; they live a few minutes from the park and the forest, and they hang out with all the neighbourhood kids. Stacey and Sheldon both agree that it feels really safe; like a real community.
When asked if they would recommend that other people move here, the answer is a resounding “Yes”. “For us,” says Sheldon, “Rotorua is not just about tourism, although our business will benefit from the large number of visitors here for holidays or events. For us, it’s about lifestyle. It ticks the boxes for work and play, and it’s also close to everywhere. When we moved here, half the people we told thought we were crazy. We felt it was good timing for our young family and with both of us having trades we can always fall back on, what did we have to lose? Some good friends came down from Auckland for mountain biking the other day. They’re keen to leave Auckland, so we told them to do what we had done and ‘Just do it’. Our sous-chef has moved down from Auckland with his young family to work for us. He admits that they didn’t think they’d ever be able to buy a house in Auckland. He’s only been here eight months and now they’ve bought their first home. How awesome is that?”
“Rotorua has so much potential,” Sheldon says. “It is also so central and there’s so much stuff happening. We haven’t even had the time to explore much of the tourist stuff, apart from the luge which the boys love. We can’t wait to have more free time to discover what other treasures Rotorua has to offer.”