A few weeks ago, I took a trip to Whitianga and paid a visit to The Fillery Eco Grocer to take some photos and have a chat with owner, Kathryn Mardell. We had a little chat about her experience of starting a new business in Covid times, of motherhood, sustainability, and life in a small beach town. Keep reading for the full interview and make sure to stop in or preorder your Volare treats next time you’re in town.

Kathryn Mardell of The Fillery Eco Grocer in Whitianga

How long have you been in business and what is the story behind The Fillery?

My husband Adam and I opened The Fillery in April 2021, after I pestered him enough to believe it was a good idea. We started building the business in the new year and looking for a lease site. My interest in sustainable living has increased over the years and I felt like it was something our town was missing. I was also really looking to create a welcoming and community minded space which is why we added grocer as part of our name to represent the old idea of knowing our customers on a more personal level than what you get in your supermarket.

Being in a small beach town, how has the past year of lockdowns affected your business?

Even though people warned us about opening in winter I feel like it really gave us a chance to get to know our local customers and build a great customer base. Like everyone in our town – which relies on visitors to keep our economy healthy – we have really felt the affects of the lockdowns, not just in our business but also the mental and emotional toll it takes. We have had continued support from our lovely local customers and are now really looking forward to seeing what our first summer brings while we still navigate the new systems in place for Covid.

How did you find out about Volare and how have our products been received by your customers?

We were looking to source a quality Sourdough as local as possible, so after a bit of Google searching and review reading, we decided to reach out to Volare and see if it was possible to get it as far as Coromandel. Ruby the local rep was really lovely and worked with me to come up with a plan to trial and see if we could make it work. Our customers love the bread and I think we even inspired another business in Thames to source Volare too. The best part is the name is so well known in the Waikato that it instantly brings in visitors to the town who see the sign outside and remark on how awesome it is to be able to get Volare in Whitianga.

What is your favourite Volare product?

I love the Volare Grain Sourdough and the Vege Korma pie. My husband is a huge fan of the Braised Beef Pie and the Cronuts. We wish were close enough to order more of the perishable Volare products but unfortunately the winding drive isn’t very forgiving.

What is your favourite reusable/sustainable product or trend in 2021?

I don’t even know, I love getting our staple food without all of the packaging. Aotea’s Kawakawa Balm is always on hand in our house and I love the values and ethics around the brand. We also have a huge range of The Nude Alchemist products and don’t really use pharmaceutical products for most of our ailments. In the store, I think what I love most is that we stock heaps of other sustainable small NZ businesses and the majority of them are women led and run.

Why is sustainability important to you?

I grew up on Great Barrier Island and unless you have lived there it is really hard to explain. It is just a completely different lifestyle – my husband always jokes it’s like going back in time. Growing up using what you had, repairing and keeping things to use for other purposes were just a way of living. I grew up with tank water, a long drop and cooking on a stove – which was the only way of heating our water with a wetback.

I started becoming more aware of consumerism and animal testing in my early 20’s and my interest in living in a way that was kinder on the planet started to grow. It has been a journey and not an overnight development. I still have plenty more to do to live more sustainably but also try to be realistic about the season I am in, in life. Pregnant, wife, mother to two pre-schoolers and managing two self-employed businesses means I can’t do everything but I believe I will keep working towards finding a balance that feels right.

What have your biggest challenges been since opening?

Learning a completely new career has been pretty crazy. Previously, I worked in Special Education and as a Primary School Teacher. Then I became a mum and did the stay-at-home thing for 3 years. I had no clue what I was doing and have figured it out as I went. It has meant lots of long nights, lots of juggling family life and lots of sacrifices.

I really hope next year things settle down a bit, especially with Covid, so that I can focus on my kids and family more, as I feel like they are the ones who pay for me chasing this dream. We had some major setbacks along the way before we opened and I think that getting open was actually the hardest part.

I am so grateful to be in this space and hopefully inspiring other women to follow their hearts and go after what feels right. The hard work pays off and I have met some incredible people in the journey. I wouldn’t take back this part of my life and have learnt a lot about myself. The sweat and tears have been plenty but I know my shop has also provided a space for people to connect, I have been a listening ear and shared some really exciting and really hard parts of my customers lives with them – it is such a privilege.

A huge thank you to Kathryn for taking the time to meet with me and show me around her awesome store. If you’re in Whitianga this summer, make sure to stop in and check out her great range of sustainable product or head to www.thefillery.co.nz to shop online.