Rafikis in Lawrence Lane is our 3rd, hopefully final, venue, and about our 7th incarnation!
We opened here in November 2022 in our 4th year as a business and we’re very pleased to be in this spectacular space that had very different beginnings - starting as a petrol station and car workshop, then a furniture makers, before being transformed with a lot of guts and vision by the Rust and the Wolf team who established a bar/ restaurant in 2018 at the same time as we began Rafikis around the corner in West St.
After many years guiding treks, working abroad and conjuring up exciting challenges (like walking 500 miles across the Sahara, or homeschooling the kids on a remote tropical island) we hung up our travelling boots when the kids needed to stay still and began Rafikis in 2018.
It was a dream of Susie’s to have a small cafe, sharing eclectic recipes and curiosities from travels around the world. A relaxed place for people to gather and enjoy good food without meat.
Whatever your dietary choice we can all agree that it is important for our environment, for climate change, for biodiversity and for health that we all eat less meat. We believe that every small business can make a difference in the world through its sourcing and operating choices. We opened with optimism that Ashburton was ready for a veggie and vegan cafe but were, and still are, careful not to preach our morals at every opportunity - rather win people over simply with good delicious food and a warm and welcoming atmosphere.
Rafikis quickly became a busy and much loved place in the community, for all sorts of folk of all sorts of ages. We opened 6 days a week and Friday nights at Rafikis became quite legendary and a lot of fun.
Then in spring 2020 the Covid pandemic began and our cafe would never be the same again. Like all hospitality businesses we struggled to continue before the government announced a national lockdown.
Like so many we’ve learnt a lot in these last few years about having to adapt! Transforming ourselves with resilience and creativity to the next version of Rafikis to enable our small business to survive.
With the first Lockdown we realised the best thing we could do was work as a family to operate a takeaway kitchen, whilst furloughing the staff to keep them safe. The takeaway was a huge success, luckily, growing quite a following, and happily we were able to offer free food to NHS workers or anyone at all just needing a break.
From August 2020 we re-opened but with tables only outside and remained outside in between lockdowns (other than a brief attempt at coming indoors with screens and limited numbers in December - that didn't work!).
By Spring 2021 we decided to give up on returning indoors, & expanded our tiny kitchen out into what was the cafe, and rented the whole yard from Ashburton Arts Centre - to whom we will be eternally grateful! They saved our tofu so to speak! The yard became a happy place for locals and tourists alike, musicians played and a lot of coffee and food was served by staff having to walk just a bit further to deliver than most cafes!
We stayed outdoors, whatever the weather, until the end of October 2021…But the weather was turning and we needed a warmer solution…
Rafikis at Number 14.
This became our ‘21/22 winter hideout, enabling us to open days and evenings and provide a welcoming place, with more space and an outside courtyard (which remained important in those strange times). One hitch - no kitchen! So, in true Rafikis style we adapted. All our food was made from scratch in our original Rafikis kitchen, then ingeniously ferried over to Number 14 up to 3 times a day with our wonderful cargo bike! Chefs got quite fit and fast on this ingenious thing ferrying too and from West st to North st.
In April 2022 we migrated once more to the Arts Centre Yard, and ran our busy cafe from there and our West street base once more. A fun season of all sorts of outdoor capers ensued complete with thali weekends raising money for Ukraine and contributing to our own community through the ‘Poortreeves Pick’ sales. We also proudly won the Ashburton Award for ‘Most Outstanding Baker - All credit to Richard our amazing baker and cake chef.
When these Lawrence Lane premises came up for sale we knew it was the right thing for us, offering a bigger kitchen, more tables and a lovely sun filled courtyard. It was a huge financial stretch, our biggest and bravest adventure yet, but fingers crossed, it was worthwhile.
We have loved our journey here so far and and so appreciate the support of you, our wonderful customer community.
We are striving to use the best local and seasonal produce we can (thank you to the growers at Shillingford, Cuddyford, & Green Ginger organics) whilst maintaining a level of affordability and accessibility that is so important to us. We run a ‘Pay it forward’ scheme here, enabling those who may not otherwise be able to have the solace of a good coffee or meal in a warm space to freely ask for one. (spread the word!) If you are feeling lucky enough to be able to donate and contribute towards this please do let us know (spread the word!).
Looking forward we have plenty of exciting projects on the horizon. Outdoor fire feasts are coming soon, regular spoken word nights have just begun - ‘Speakease at Rafikis ‘ on the first Sunday of every month, hopefully more regular film and food nights (we had our first with everyone eating Thali from their tiffin tins whilst watching The LunchBox ), and perhaps some craft workshops as well as cookery classes. We are passionate to share that vegetarian & vegan food does not need to be dull!