The Perching Parrot takes on Dark Horse

As the locals of Paekākāriki know, The Perching Parrot Café in the heart of the village has been serving up good food, coffee and company for almost a decade. Run by village icon, Nicole Duke, the Parrot is in good hands – Nicole has been in the coffee business for most of her working life. profiles her coffee journey and recent change of coffee roaster.

Nicole Duke. Photo: Nik Bullard

Starting out in Wellington at Midnight Espresso around 1989, Nicole worked for café culture pioneers, Geoff Marsland and Tim Rose, her childhood friends. She bounced between Auckland and Wellington working at various cafés, then after a ten-year stint in Sydney, packed up her things to return to Aotearoa to help her family care for her 84-year-old grandmother. Sadly, her granny passed away just weeks before she landed, but it did bring Nicole back to the Kāpiti Coast, a bit of a culture shock after the bright lights of Sydney.

Following the purchase of a doer-upper house in Paekākāriki that her aunt, Denise Duke had recommended, Nicole bought the Paekākāriki Café with her then-partner Ashleigh. Originally owned by her aunt and uncle, the Paekākāriki Café was located on Wellington Road before it moved to the main shops and then changed hands a few times. After researching the name of the village (‘the Perch of the Kākāriki’), Nicole and Ashleigh renamed the café ‘The Perching Parrot’.

What does she love most about Paekākāriki and running the café? “It’s pretty amazing! I love being part of Paekākāriki, it is the most in-line alternative town that fitted me after Sydney. One of the best things is seeing friendships form at the café… I see it like a family. We help each other. It’s important to me that this happens”. She hires and trains local kids to give them a decent start at their working life and is committed to the takatāpui/rainbow community – her café provides a safe and welcoming space for all.

Photo: Nicole Duke

After she became extremely ill and needed a life-saving emergency operation a few years ago, Nicole remains indebted to her then-manager, Grace, for holding the cafe together during this time. “It wouldn’t have survived without her”. Coming out the other side of her illness, she decided to put the café on the market.  However, as she regained her health, she decided a restructure of the café would help with her well-being, along with her staff, and enable her to find her passion again.

And the Parrot has gone from strength to strength ever since – the kitchen food has been replaced by counter and blackboard fare and a new couch and chairs “breathe new life into it”. “The new model is working really well, it has created a sustainable lifestyle for me and my staff”.

When her friend Geoff sold Havana coffee to Lion Brewery, The Perching Parrot changed to local roaster, Dark Horse Coffee Co., run by another long-time friend, Matt, who she had worked with at Brazil, “a crazy little café in Auckland”.

“As Lion Brewery’s profits go offshore, and I don’t drink, this change didn’t fit with me – and Geoff would have decapitated me if I’d swapped on him!”, she jokes. “The call to jump ship to Dark Horse is a really good business, personal and local move and it’s a popular coffee on the coast”. After a bit of refining, the new coffee brand is going down well with customers

Photo: Nicole Duke

Committed to the local community, the environment and to healthy, ethical food, Nicole is part of the Pae Cycle composting scheme, uses only free-range eggs and meat, the used coffee grounds are available to locals as garden compost and she produces as little rubbish as possible. She sponsors local groups, organisations and events and is a visible part of our proud rainbow community.

If you haven’t already, pop down for a new brew at the Parrot – you may even make a new friend (or at least see an old one).

Photo: Jono from Paekākāriki Fruit Supply