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Just along from the corner of Riddiford and Constable Streets there is an unassuming hole in the wall selling some of the best sandwiches in town.
You could miss it, if it weren’t for the row of seats on the footpath and the bunch of miscellaneous Newtown characters regularly making the most of a pleasant place to perch. This is Good Boy − the brain child of Al Green and James Paul, bandmates and besties. Besties is probably not the word they’d choose to describe their relationship, but what else do you call a couple of guys with friendship tattoos?
James and Al go way back, though their lives ran in parallel for a while before finally intersecting. They both went to the NZ School of Music (colloquially known as ‘jazz school’) but were in different years and didn’t really hang out. They both moved to Melbourne (and still didn’t hang out), but in the end heartbreak led them to each other. Around the same time, both of their girlfriends broke up with them − and they found themselves waiting dejectedly for the same flight back to Wellington. They drank at the airport bar and talked for so long they nearly missed their flight.
By the time they landed, Al had invited James to join his band Groeni − which began as a solo project but was going to need a couple more musicians. The third member, already recruited, was Mike Isaacs, who also went to the jazz school and who had actually taught − and failed – Al back in 2013. In the years following Groeni released an EP and a full-length debut, both well received here and overseas; soon after the release of album Nihx, they came up with their next big project.
One warm night towards the end of their annual summer bender, the boys were drinking, again. They joked about opening a sandwich shop and then made it happen. These days, Al and James dream up a couple of sandwiches every week, always a meat and a vegan option, loading up bakery bread with flavour combinations like burnt orange beetroot, candied walnuts, brazil nut ricotta, and vegan remoulade, or rare beef, kale and garlic chimichurri, mayo and rocket. Al, who’s worked in kitchens since he was 18 and as a chef for half of that time, is the savoury flavour wizard, and James looks after the business side and bakes the vegan cookies.
Nearly 18 months after opening, Good Boy has well outlasted James’ expectations (Al thought they’d still be going strong but that’s because he believes in James. James was less sure because, well, he has to work with Al). It has meant less time to devote to music, so Groeni has been on pause since Good Boy kicked off. ‘That was maybe overdue. We’d been playing and writing a bunch together,’ says James. But recently the band started rehearsing again, with a mind to playing live and releasing more music shortly.
Part of Good Boy’s success lies in the story at the heart of its brand − of a couple of unlikely wasters who accidentally began a business. This story is told again and again, in increasingly ridiculous detail on their Instagram feed (which has been described by customers as ‘anti-marketing’), and it’s a good one. But the truth of the matter is that Al and James care about what they do, and they’re great at it. As anyone who’s tasted their food, or who loves their music, will tell you.