In 2005 Annette Meyer, who is originally from Switzerland, came to New Zealand to “milk cows and experience the Kiwi way of life”. She was so entranced with this country she came back a few years later and is still here, but her journey has seen her move from the farm life to her own food business – Just Be Food & Drinks.
After meeting Annette at the Nelson Saturday Market I caught up with her to find out more about her, what she left behind and what attracted her to this beautiful region we are lucky enough to call home.
She brings a diversity of work experience as well as her expertise to Just Be Food & Drinks. Her original qualification was as an interior decorator, “I had finished my exams and had a gap year, I wanted to do something different and it had to be outdoors. I found a worldwide programme called “Agro Impulse-Farm Stay”, opened a page in the brochure and that page happened to feature New Zealand, I said that’s where I’m going.”
Her first Kiwi experience was a farm stay in Canterbury. “During that time I spent a New Year’s eve in Nelson as a break away, like many young people do, and if someone had told me this is where you are going to live I may not have believed them but I have always had a strong pull back to Nelson, it’s a place I have always felt a connection to.”
For about four years Annette was, in her words, “a migrant bird”, she followed the sun around the world spending three summer seasons in New Zealand and four summers in Zurich where she managed a buzzing Riverside Bar and Restaurant and spent time with her Swiss friends and family.
Back in Switzerland she studied in a hospitality management school for three years. In a Restaurant or Hotel, you learn by “on the job training”, everything from chef work, food safety and customer service to staff management, while in school they teach you all the things you might need to know like business management, marketing, writing a business plan and finances.”
After graduating Hospitality Management School, it was time to travel the world again and come back to New Zealand to see more of the country she had been missing since she left five years earlier.
In the Marlborough Sounds Annette found a place she says is where her soul wanted to stay forever. A feeling of finally coming home after a long journey
Her second work experience in New Zealand was at Hopewell Lodge “a very refined, welcoming and heart-warming hospitality business at its best and the experience there encouraged me to host people with an open heart and be creative with delicious food, it’s been a strong foundation for my career in New Zealand since.
“The wonderful Kiwi family and the way they run their business, taught me skills more valuable than I learned in my years at hospitality management school. Over the years, they accepted me as part of their family, I am so lucky to have such generous and caring people in my life far away from Switzerland.”
After working at Hopewell Lodge she spent a couple of summers working at Raetihi Lodge and while she was back in Zurich for the northern summer the owner of Hopewell Lodge sent her a link to a job advertisement for a manager’s job at Morri Street Café, “I had a skype interview, they employed me and I arrived in Nelson in September 2017.
“Morri Street Café was a great steppingstone for me to become a part of the community here. Nelson people got to know me as manager and host of the Café. It was an opportunity to understand the food business here, I met suppliers, got a feel for the business community and was able to set myself up with a strong business network.
“It was a great way for me to meet people, lots of those people have encouraged and supported me in my first years trading as Just Be Food & Drinks.
“Morri Street Cafe was one the most challenging jobs but when you go through a learning process there comes a time when you need to change. It was time for me to start my own business. Ellie, the cute little 1975 retro caravan rolled into my life in November 2017. It was love at first sight and the beginning of a new adventure.”
Annette says one of the key things she did was learn about the food people wanted when they go out, some people go out for treats or because they want to eat something they can’t make at home. But she says “you can’t put everyone in the same pot, Nelsonians are a diverse bunch. There is a strong vegan movement here. I’m a traditional Swiss cook who loves butter, cheese and meat so when I’m choosing food and deciding what my products are, I need to understand my customers desires to design a menu or product range that suits them.
“I’m continually gathering information about people’s relationship with food, what they want when they go out. When you cook for people you really like, you cook with love and people like your food so when you have a business like mine you need to understand your community so you can make food they want and love.
“I’m always motivated to learn more about food and can be a bit nerdy about it, but if you have real passion for the food you make your customers can taste that passion in your food, even if it is a simple salad.”
Annette takes her beloved caravan to festivals and markets but it all started close to her home in the Brook, “there is an assembly point for the Codgers mountain bike park right in front of my door and when I moved there two years ago, my neighbour said ‘you should set something up for the riders’.
“I got council approval to set up the mobile café and started by selling coffee, ice cream, milkshakes, smoothies and home baking.” The food changes with the seasons and changes every day so regulars can expect to discover new treats every time they visit.
Something that’s really important to Annette is to work with locals and local products, “I have learned about the seasons here and my food will change with the seasons. Some people will sell the very best sausage roll all year and that’s fine, but the seasonal produce I can buy and gather locally defines my cooking and baking.
“It’s really satisfying knowing where the produce comes from and I’m proud to turn it into delicious food, being connected to growers and producers is my best source for the food I’m making.
One of the most popular treats at Just Be Food & Drink is the beautiful cheesecakes Annette handcrafts, you can buy them in reusable glass jars for an individual treat or maybe order a multi-tiered cheesecake dessert of a special celebration.
You will find “Ellie” the funky retro caravan and Annette and her delicious foods at the Farmers Market each week and at the Nelson Market and Isel Twilight market in summer.