Cup Half Full

This is the first story in our series about Tauranga’s coffee ‘carts’ (sheds, caravans, containers) — places that bring people together. We order a brew from the popular Welcome Bay hub, Pippy’s Pantry.

This is the first story in our series about Tauranga’s coffee ‘carts’ (sheds, caravans, containers) — places that bring people together. We order a brew from the popular Welcome Bay hub, Pippy’s Pantry.

“You’ll have that heated with butter?”

He’s already on the move when he says it. Pivoting on his heel, Matt Coombe moves from one end
of his Welcome Bay container kingdom to another. He puts just the right amount of butter across
the warm scone before the woman replies: “You have to ask?”

The smile that appears on his face says he has heard this before but enjoys it no less.

Matt is the face and frontman of Pippy’s Pantry, a coffee and food stop set up in a shipping container at Tauranga’s busy Waipuna Park in early 2022. And the woman alongside Matt is his wife Nicole,
the classically trained chef who creates Pippy’s food.

The pair met in Port Douglas, Australia over a decade ago. She was travelling, living in a tent with friends. He ran a restaurant with his brother, smashing through up to 160 covers at a time. It was,
he says, hectic, adrenalised and heady. Those were the frantic days of work and thinking of what
was next on your own path.

Until they weren’t. Matt met Nicole (known to some as Pippy after an appearance at a Christmas party as Pippi Longstocking) “round the traps” and that was that. They bonded over a love of
food and family.

Matt chats with one of his regulars.

The pair eventually made their way to New Zealand and landed in Welcome Bay. And while
they worked for other people, the idea of their own place was never far away.

Pippy’s Pantry took a while to become a reality. But the concept of a shipping container
(potentially moveable in a few hours) and a genuine desire to improve social connection through food, coffee and interaction eventually won the day.

Nicole prefers to let her husband front the business. He is, she says, phenomenally good at it.
“He matches, he listens and he facilitates. He will say, ‘Hey Bernie, you’re into classic cars. Well,
John over there has a classic Jag’. It’s kind of like life used to be. These days people are on their phones so much and don’t really look up. The people part of it fuels Matt. It fills his cup.”

Both Matt and Nicole come from families where genuine connection and business went hand in hand. Nicole’s father ran one of Auckland City’s first espresso bars downtown in the ’80s before
it was fashionable to do so. And Matt’s father was a dairy farmer in New South Wales who opened
a butcher’s shop, the kind you used to see in every town. He loved nothing more than a yarn with customers as he wrapped their meat in his butcher’s paper.

Pippy’s Pantry is a community hub for young and old.

Trained chef Nicole creates the food.

Days at Pippy’s can be unpredictable with busy times interspersed with quiet ones, sometimes
with no rhyme or reason. Saturday mornings during kids’ sports seasons are normally “mad busy”. And while the money side is good, the ability to have a conversation drops away, Matt says.

Back at the park, a mum with her baby snoozing under a woollen hat stops in. As she pushes her sunglasses up to reveal tired eyes, her coffee is already on the go. Coffee maker extraordinaire
Ash works the machine like some sort of pinball wizard, multitasking to ensure the brew will be up
to the usual high standards. She smiles as she greets the new customer, then leans out of the container to call a name and matches them to their drink.

Matt flicks a flaky almond croissant into a paper bag as the woman closes her eyes, feeling the
sun on her back and stroking the baby’s fuzzy head. The locally made dried flower installation
on the ceiling of the container ruffles slightly in the breeze.

A man walks up. Hesitating, he waits for the flow of customers to recede. He holds no dog lead
or cell phone, and juggles no sticky children’s hands. He just waits. He has ambled over from his nearby home, which is altogether too quiet these days.

Matt sees him and adjusts tone accordingly. “Hey mate, how are you? What can I do for you today?” And then he listens. There is no moving on to the next customer until that person has, quite literally, had their moment in the sun. The man is one of a few regulars the team see that lives alone and craves a little social interaction.

People wait and chat amiably, friendly pups cruise around looking for a scratch behind the ear
and the odd scrap. Nearby, a couple sit, relaxed in the mid-morning sun. Another couple comes
to join them in happy silence on the other side of the picnic table.

Matt says the community got divided during Covid-19, locking down and masking up forcing us
apart. “We were all meant to stay away from each other, to become strangers. We are happy to encourage the opposite of that here,” he says.

Nicole agrees. “People just really want to be seen. They want to be seen and acknowledged in
this world. We all want that. And here we have our eyes fully open.”

25 Kaitemako Rd, Welcome Bay


Words by Katherine Whittaker
Photography by ilk