Young entrepreneurs move south to start businesses

Maggie George and Simon Moir at The Snuggery, on Stewart Island. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Maggie George and Simon Moir at The Snuggery, on Stewart Island. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Southland is gaining a reputation as a burgeoning hub for young people to kick-start new businesses, with several new cafes and food trucks springing up in the region in the past year.

The region’s comparably low rent, lack of market saturation and sense of community support make it a place for new beginnings, with many of the new eateries being started by first-time business owners aged in their 20s, who are new to the region or recently returned.

Blenheim couple Maggie George and Simon Moir took a road trip of the country in 2019 and fell in love with Stewart Island/Rakiura, leading to buying and renovating an old museum, turning it into a boutique cafe, The Snuggery, in late 2019.

Since opening, the pair had been shown plenty of community support, keeping them afloat during the off-season, and the new business was paying off, Mr Moir said.

"There was a lot of learning, dealing with council to get the building up to scratch ... Lots of renovations and dealing with the ins and outs of all the different types of accounts and food registration," he said.

"People thought we were crazy doing what we were doing if they hadn’t been down to Southland or Stewart Island," Ms George said.

"Like, ‘you’re gonna open a cafe in a tourism spot just after Covid’, but we were pretty confident in what we were doing. They’re thinking if that was in Wellington or something, that would be a giant risk because it’s so saturated. But for us here, it’s really not a risky move."

On the outskirts of Te Anau in The Key, Anna Macdonald opened a coffee and food truck, Sprig and Thistle, after dabbling in catering and cake-making throughout the pandemic.

Ms Macdonald left home for Wellington in 2017 to study a culinary arts and business bachelor’s degree, but the pandemic brought her back to Southland and forced her to scratch a job she had lined up.

She said her father recalled The Key being a hub for eateries "back in the day", which she hoped to contribute to revitalising.

"It’s such a cool vibe here, being in the middle of nowhere, especially for mental health ... I feel like Kate and I are contributing something to the community."

Her older sister Kate Macdonald opened Davaar & Co in 2020, a clothing label using crossbred wool from their family’s fifth-generation farm, Davaar Station.

In Invercargill, friends Chloe Binns and Christina Downey gained a reputation for their coffee cart before expanding into their first cafe last year in Glengarry.

Kava opened in October, with the co-owners crediting the local community for its success.

"If we were in Auckland there’s no way we would have been able to do what we’ve done. I think Southland has given us the opportunity to be able to go in headfirst and not be like racking up all this debt," Ms Downey said.

Coin South is an innovation network for Southland start-ups and its chief activator, Cathy Peters, said it was a testament to the city’s potential that young people were moving south to start and grow businesses.

"Invercargill is the perfect place for young entrepreneurs — with a supportive community and plenty of resources to help them get started."