A bottle full of happiness

Pivot. It’s a word we’ve heard often since Covid-19 rampaged across the planet, affecting lives and businesses.

The Kapiti Coast hasn’t been immune: local businesses have had to quickly rethink the way they operate to make up for lost customers and revenue.

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by Sharon Stephenson

The Bond Store is one of those businesses. Owned by Chris Barber and Bec Kay, the Paraparaumu couple make the internationally award-winning Koakoa Limoncello and The Bond Store Kawakawa Gin.

But when bottle stores, bars and restaurants closed due to the pandemic, they lost 90% of their revenue.

Online sales were still happening, but generally the future looked bleak. Until they had the opportunity to pivot.

“Like everyone else, we were worried about the future and about how long before things got back to normal,” says Chris. “Everything was so uncertain.”

The couple were thrown a life-line during Level 4 when they were asked to make hand sanitiser to supply to fruit and vegetable growers in the Horowhenua. “They urgently needed sanitiser so they could continue to pick their produce, a vital part of our food supply chain.”

Although they’d never thought of manufacturing hand sanitiser, Chris admits the couple is “always up for a challenge”. After obtaining a permit from Customs and scouring the web for recipes, within 36 hours they had converted their limoncello and gin factory into hand sanitiser HQ.

It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. “We were developing a new product in a health crises, so we had to get it right. Plus, we had to borrow money to buy the raw material. We also worried that we could damage our existing equipment pivoting in this way.”

As well as supplying local growers, the couple filled urgent orders for Palmerston North Hospital which had run low on supply.

The sanitiser, sold in 10 and 20 litre containers, wasn’t really about making money, says Chris.

“It’s been great to pay off some bills but the main thing for us was that we were given the opportunity to do something to help others and local suppliers, who we bought ingredients from.”

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Chris and Bec are no strangers to changing tack. Both were born in Kapiti - Chris in Paraparaumu and Bec in Waikanae – and after returning from their OE in 2002, Bec finished her nursing training while Chris started a range of businesses - from a hop-on-hop-off shuttle tour company to a Wellington cafe.

But after having their daughter Ruby (now 11), they decided that Kapiti was where they wanted to work and live.

Two years ago, the couple bought a limoncello business which was established 10 years ago by Soprano Restaurant in Paraparaumu.

Even for a couple used to taking a risk, this was a bit of a stretch, as neither of them had ever tasted the sweet Italian liqueur before!

But they didn’t let that little detail stop them and in 2018, bought the business which they promptly re-branded as Koakoa Limoncello.

“Koakoa means happiness in Te Reo Māori and because limoncello is the kind of drink you celebrate with and make cocktails with, it was the perfect name to represent that sense of happiness and celebration,” says Chris.

Six months after they rebranded, Chris started noticing that at every bottle store or bar he sold his limoncello to staff would comment on how popular gin and vodka was.

So he started researching the spirits and bought a couple of home brew kits. Gin and then vodka soon followed.

In November 2018, just in time for the Kapiti Food Fair, the couple launched their product under The Bond Store brand.   

The name is a nod to the place where people once had to pay their taxes. “Excise tax is so high in New Zealand that we often joke we’re in the business of collecting tax,” says Bec.

For the first year Chris was making, bottling, marketing and bottling the limoncello, gin and vodka on his own, but a year ago Bec gave up her nursing job to join him. “I was jealous he was having all the fun and the plan was always for us to work together,” she says.

From a purpose-built factory in Paraparaumu, the pair produce around 10,000 litres each of gin, vodka and three types of limoncello – a classic one, a creamy one, a version that uses oranges instead of lemons and a recent invention, Honeycello, which uses Mānuka honey from Greytown.

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“We’ve sold out of every batch of Honeycello we’ve made,” says Chris.

Customers aren’t the only ones paying attention: the couple have won several major awards since buying the business, including a double gold award at SIP, the US International Spirits Competition, for their limoncello, as well as a silver medal at the 2018 UK International Wine and Spirit Competition where they beat out Italian entries.

Last year they also took home bronze for their Kawakawa Gin at the New Zealand Spirit Awards and just before Christmas won gold at the prestigious Hong Kong International Wine and Spirit Competition for their limoncello.

Their award-winning products are now stocked by liquor stores and bars around the North Island, and both they and their two business partners try to make it to fairs and food shows around the country. They also sell online.

Living and working in Kapiti is important for this couple who say they love how easy it is to get around and the work/life balance that provides.

“This morning, I walked from our house to the factory along the beach,” says Bec. “Where else in the world can you do that?”

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