Clearing the conscience of diners, the owners of George and Japanese restaurant Mr Miyagi are doing good food the right way.

WORDS JENNY RUDD PHOTOS TRACIE HEASMAN

It’s a rare treat to be invited into a restaurateur’s home, but for Claire Beard and Luke McCartin this is where part of the magic happens; a lifestyle block that is soon set to provide up to 90% fresh produce to both eateries. Sipping coffee in their large industrial kitchen, Claire and Luke explain how it all started, what it is they do differently and why.

First came George, a hearty whole-foods café along Omanu Beach, serving  smashing coffee, fresh salads and freshly baked cakes and slices. Next came Mr. Miyagi, a vibrant, contemporary Japanese restaurant, quietly concealed down a little lane in the heart of Mount Maunganui.

Having faith in fate

“We’ve always loved Japanese food – our first date was at a Japanese restaurant. We planned to open the kind of place we wanted to go to, and that’s how Miyagi was born.

“We couldn’t find a space that suited us, then one day I decided to look on TradeMe and the owners had listed the building that day. I was suddenly totally consumed by it; I can be a bit obsessive, but it is such a beautiful building.

“We had a few hurdles to overcome and finally, after ten months, it all started to fall into place. In another turn of fate, our son Patrick was born just as we opened. Only a few days old, he was a regular at Mr. Miyagi and would sleep in the back room.

“We didn’t have much of a budget, but what we did have went into the kitchen. We got married around the same time, so instead of hiring everything, we bought it all and then it went to the restaurant.”

Down the lane

Mr. Miyagi is set in a clean, bright space, both minimalist and rustic; the couple spent hours white-washing the tables themselves. Food adds colour to the picture in an almost artistic and modern way – it’s a new and exciting way to eat Japanese.

As a lifelong devotee to sustainability, Claire is conscious of this when designing the menus. “We don’t serve tuna for the simple reason that there’s not enough of it left world-wide. Instead we use kingfish because it’s a great alternative.

“We make lots of plant based dishes as well as meat, to increase alternatives and encourage people to try something different and re-evaluate their usual eating habits.”

Unfortunately with this, comes the lack of availability of good produce. “We wanted to do vegan scallops, but we couldn’t buy the mushrooms that we wanted, so we bought a mushroom-growing kit. If you can’t get the produce you want for certain dishes, then you have to grow it yourself.”

From farm to table

As Claire’s cooking evolved, so too did the garden concept. The land was bought at the same time as Mr. Miyagi, although a plot was never in the plan. “We always loved the idea of a good vege garden, but nothing on this scale.”

‘The longer you live somewhere, the more you see its capabilities. We kept hearing about these quarter-acres that were providing restaurants with their produce and we were like ‘Hey, we’ve got a whole acre!’ We’ll never have to worry about the quality of produce that we get.

“We basically take the vegetables straight from the garden to the restaurants, five minutes away. We are growing everything locally and organically. It doesn’t get fresher than that.”

First learn to stand, then learn to fly

“Initially we just wanted to get the café opened. We’ve always just done what we could manage at the time. When we opened George four years ago, you couldn’t get freedom pork or organic chicken. People called us hippies for using free-range eggs.

“We’ve had to move slowly, because of  life changes such as the arrival of babies but we are getting there. We reduce our waste as much as possible, by recycling, composting, and feeding the worm farm and our chooks.

“We just want to aim for constant improvement and are always evolving more comprehensive ethical practices in every area of our operation. This is what excites us, and so far, nothing else seems comparable”.

mrmiyagi.co.nz