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New cafe, old family recipes

Monday 18 September 2023 | Written by Joanne Holden | Published in Features, Food, Go Local


New cafe, old family recipes
Stacks director Macan Munokoa, left, and barister Ashley Chaloner will some of the baked goods on offer. 23091750

From family recipes passed down for generations to a Nikao-based bakery satisfying the sweet tooth of Rarotonga’s students for more than 40 years, Turamatuitui Bakery continues to grow as its cafe offshoot relocates to Avarua.

Stacks reopened in Avarua on Monday after dwindling foot traffic saw its previous Panama location close in June, cafe director Macan Munokoa says.

“The old shop was lovely, and we had our faithful ones that would stop through, but it got to the point when it wasn’t worth my time,” Munokoa says.

“Now, all the customers that we had at our old place are literally next door – so we’ve moved closer to our faithful customers, as well as more prospective customers. Tourists are our visitors now.

“Given that the borders are now freely open, it’s exciting times for our country and it’s nice to be in amongst it.”

Munokoa – whose mother, Ngamau Munokoa, opened Turamatuitui Bakery using family recipes passed down by her own mother in 1979 – says plans for further expansion are already in motion, with enough room at the new shop to install a kitchen.

The cafe is an extension of the Turamatuitui Bakery, which opened in Nikao in 1979. 23091760

“I am looking for a chef right now,” she says.

“When I find the right person, there will be a small menu and people will be able to sit down and dine.”

Munokoa says growing the business is about showing “respect” to her parents and previous generations who contributed to its success.

"I want them to see it’s still going, this thing they started for everyone to enjoy,” she says.

“Mum is nearly 80 but she still rolls out the meringue pies, rolls out the pastries. She has imparted the recipe and gets to test us on certain things. I have tremendous respect for my mother, and she can see the generation to come will be able to carry it on.”

Munokoa was “very young” when she started getting involved in the business.

“I was very much born into it. My bedroom was in the bakery,” she says.

“Our bakery is maybe three times the size it was then. About a quarter of it used to be our little bedroom, until it expanded.”

Munokoa says Stacks originally opened in Panama in February 2020, about a month before Covid-19 forced the Cook Islands to close to visitors.

“It was really busy, surprisingly,” she says.

“We [people living in Rarotonga while the borders were closed] didn’t really have much else to do except visit cafes. I was just at the right time, right place when we first opened.”

Munokoa says the Turamatuitui Bakery operation, located across from Tereora College, was scaled down during the pandemic.

“The bakery continued to supply the supermarkets – but since there were not many people here, just our own people, we needed to adjust production to match.

“Still, the bakery managed to do better than the year before because of the cafe.”

When the border reopened permanently in early 2022, the number of people coming through the bakery started to drop, Munokoa says.

“The island became busier, but we became less accessible. When we were located, it was almost like a highway. People couldn’t park and stop,” she says.

“I decided to go back to the drawing board, and the drawing board was back at the bakery. I closed up, and took the coffee machine and everything back to the bakery. We are busy there, so I thought, ‘Why not just take it back there and see what we can do?’

“During that process, this opportunity [in Avarua] came up and so it wasn’t hard for me to decide where it was going.”

Munokoa says the cabinet at the Avarua shop, which is located at Mana Court, is “almost a replica” of the food on offer at the Nikao bakery – from chicken salad rolls, to quiches, to their signature pinapple pies.

“It is a hope that people will get to enjoy the bakery goods that we have in Nikao, here in town,” she says.

“We used to make a lot of pies a very long time ago. We stopped because the two big bakeries were commercialising making those.

"When we opened Stacks, it gave us an opportunity to start tapping back into it. The potato top is something that we’ve now put a name to.”

Munokoa expects the cabinet will change as she learns more about the tastes of people moving through the island’s central business district.

“Things will be different compared to what the students like. They are our major customer at the bakery and they have a specific taste,” she says.

“That’s what I love about baking, we can adjust as we go through. When someone wants something, we can try and see if we can cater to that.