When I visited James Gardiner at Rushworth, his café on North Wharf, it was a blue skied Friday morning and I found myself blissed in the beauty of the location. The sun was rising behind Rangitoto, its warm amber rays gently waking the city. The only sounds were the cries of the seagull, gentle chatter of the passersby and the boat engines on the harbour.
Entering Rushwoth there was a hive of activity. James was working his magic behind the coffee machine and the booths were filled with chattering customers enjoying their morning coffee fix. Immediately I was entranced by the bowls and plates on the counter, piled high with Mrs MacGregor’s home baked goods. Scones, ginger bread and muffins galore, all freshly baked with love for the café.
It was this aspect of the MacGregor’s Brothers café’s that drew me to want to chat with James. I loved the idea of his mother baking the goods for their eateries and was intrigued to find out more. Of course there was motive that he may share one of her delicous recipes with us too (lucky for all of us he did!)
Chatting with James, here’s what he shared with me about the MacGregor’s Brother’s ventures in the central city and how their mum came to be the much adored Queen of baking at their cafes.
How did you end up in hospitality?
"It’s what I’ve always done and I love it. I’ve spent most of my working years in hospitality and events, working at the likes of Te Papa Museum in Wellington and a large hotel chain in London. In 2005 my brother and I opened MacGregor Brothers on XX , then Reslau in Elliot Stables. Rushworth is our latest venture, which we opened in 2011."
So why the name MacGregor’s Brothers?
"It isn’t actually our last name, it’s my brother’s and my middle name and we liked the sound of it. Even though we’ve now sold MacGregor’s Brother’s it is still the business name behind our cafes and even though it's not mum's last name she's affectionately named Mrs MacGregor'."
What prompted opening Rushworth?
"When the ASB building shifted down to North Wharf, so did a lot of our loyal customers. So effectively we just followed them! Being down here has many other benefits too, with events like the Triathlon, Rugby World Cup, Volvo Ocean Race and the Royal visit there’s a lot of action on the waterfront that benefits the business."
And how did Mum end up being the head baker at your eateries?
"When my brother and I started these ventures mum really wanted to help. She’s a home baker and a natural cook so it seemed like the perfect way for her to be a part of it. It’s now become the defining feature of our business, bringing a nice personal aspect to what we serve. She’s now affectionately known to all customers as Mrs Macgregor and adored for her baking."
What’s your favourite item baked by mum?
"She’s well known for her scones and muffins, but the ginger bread would be my favourite. She’s brings it in fresh baked at 7am each morning and it’s hard to resist."
Tell us about a day in the life of James.
"I arrive here early, get behind the coffee machine and make around 600 – 800 coffees each day. Sometimes I’ll be up at Reslau, but the majority of the time I’m down here at Rushworth."
What do you love about working in the city?
"It’s been very fortuitous that we started our businesses in the city. It’s really where it is all happening, especially over the past five years. There’s now a real shift towards the waterfront which is great for Rushworth too."
Where would you take a new comer to Auckland?
"A walk along the wharf, through to the viaduct and Britomart. Dinner would be at Baduzzi and a drink at any of the spots on North Wharf."
What’s a secret spot in the city that you enjoy?
"Silo Park. No matter the time of day there’s always a quiet spot you can rest and relax with a beautiful view."
Can you share one of your Mum's delish recipes with us?
Mrs MacGregor's Ginger Bread
1 cup sugar
2 tsp groung ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp mixed spice
3 tbs golden syrup
1 cup milk
2 cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
Cream the butter, sugar, egg, spices and golden syrup.
Sift in one cup of flour and mix.
Warm the milk and add half of the milk to the mix, followed by the other cup of flour. Fold together.
Dissolve the baking soda in the remaining milk and fold into the mix.
Bake in lined loaf (or cake) tin at 180c for 1 hour.