The word 'local' is one that pops up often during a visit to Woodside Café in Birkenhead, Auckland, less than 10 kilometres northwest of the central city. For owners Mark and Anleena Villella, living just a few doors down from their Hinemoa Street business means they make only a short walk to work each day, and it's a similar story for many of their loyal customers and suppliers, who often double as the Villella’s neighbours and friends. But whether you’re living within close proximity of Woodside or not, you’ll feel like you’re part of their tightknit, welcoming community as soon as you walk through the doors.
Woodside was opened in March 2016, after Mark (originally from Australia) and Anleena (who lived on Hinemoa St as a little girl) chose Auckland as the place to settle down and realise their dreams of opening their own café. Mark has more than 20 years’ experience in the hospitality and coffee industries, and has helped open cafés in South Korea, the United Kingdom and Canada. It was in Vancouver in 2003 where he met Anleena; they worked together in the same coffee shop. There, Anleena began gravitating towards the kitchen, stoking a passion for baking and natural foods. Later, she also worked as a researcher in a top naturopathic doctor’s clinic, receiving intensive training in healthy foods and alternative diets.
The huge health food scene in Vancouver, along with Anleena’s vast knowledge on the subject, made transitioning to a coeliac lifestyle a whole lot easier for Mark, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2013. It is also what has made them connect with their customers on a greater level too – as their menu is 100 per cent gluten-free.
“So many coeliacs come in, and their children are coeliac and they’ve just got no other places to go… we had somebody who was beaming that she could just come in and eat anything, and it’s those sorts of experiences that you see on a day-to-day basis that just makes you feel good. Running a café and a small business is really hard work and stressful, but it’s that sort of feedback that makes it feel worthwhile,” Mark says.
With a modest menu, Woodside’s philosophy reflects Mark and Anleena’s belief in serving food they personally love.
They make their own granola and offer a Sticky Black Rice Porridge, which has a huge following, says Anleena. In winter, the lunch menu includes tartines and homemade soups with paleo bread. From the meats to the fish, and even their cold-pressed almond milk, Woodside sources locally wherever possible.
As for bestsellers, the pair says it's hard to pick a clear winner, but thanks to Anleena’s talent for baking, the cabinet always needs to be restocked.
“Every item we have [on the menu], at one point or another it was the bestseller,” Mark says. Noteable mentions go to the cheese scones (Anleena’s grandmother’s recipe), the gluten-, dairy- and grain-free cashew butter cookies and the paleo scones.
Mark and Anleena have done a great job restoring the 1920s building too, creating space, light and cosiness throughout their intimate indoor/outdoor setting.
Woodside, 134A Hinemoa St, Birkenhead, Auckland. (09) 419 8084. Opening hours: 7am to 3pm Monday to Friday. 8am to 3pm Saturday and Sunday.