Image of Michelle Willing from Cre.Ate

Michelle Willing – Cre.Ate

“I dreamed of having my own café for most of my life. I’d worked in hospitality for ten years or so – restaurants, cafés, hotels – the lot! It was working at Les Mills for four years as the reception manager on the front line, which gave me management experience and the confidence to open my own cafe. I originally wanted a general café with no idea behind it, but the Les Mills world got me interested in healthy living. I became fascinated with healthy food and what that looks like, and that gave me the idea for Cre.Ate.

What you eat plays such a huge role in how you feel, and that’s what I want to do for people. I want to help them make healthier food choices because it affects your mood, your sleep, your energy, positivity – it has a massive impact. I don’t want anyone to ever feel judged or pressured, but if they can consider making that change, then I think that everyone would feel a lot better.

I made my parents very proud when I finally did it. My father helps me out in the café – he’s meant to be retired! I can see whenever my Dad talks to people about it, he’s just so enthusiastic. We were on the front page of the Howick and Pakuranga Times at one point and my Mum came home and saw me and my café in Howick and she said she was so proud. It took me a while to get here, but it has been the most rewarding experience.

The business did okay during the first lockdown. Luckily for me, I didn’t owe a lot of money on the business, but we took a huge hit in the second lockdown. We were still running at full operating costs, and we were making an eighth or a quarter of what we normally would. People weren’t getting takeaway food – I think they were cautious. We weren’t sure if we were going to make it through after that and we are still recovering.

We’ve seen our regulars come back after the second lockdown and quite a few new faces that built on the huge local support after the first one. There is a really cool vibe with people in Howick – you can see that so many people know each other and know their names. People walk through here and say ‘Oh! Hey Bob!’. There is big support and you can see a lot of people trying to spend their money in Howick Village rather than going anywhere else – which is really nice.

People always say that it’s a disadvantage to be off the main road, but we are right in the hub of the Saturday markets. Saturday’s are always busy here – even without the markets for the last couple of weeks. A lot of people say ‘Oh, we have never heard of you!’ or ‘Where is your cafe?’ because people don’t go off the main drag. That’s one thing I’d say to people, get off the beaten track and explore some of the great spots we have tucked away!”