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A father and daughter with the need to feed and serve.
It’s 11 am and the ice has melted from the frosty car windows. Mount Vic has emerged out of shadow at a now steady 9 degrees. A stream of women clomp up Majoribanks street, past the bright white L’affare sign, and turn hard left into the small black coffee shop that is Tomboy.
If you blink you could miss it. Inside is a boutique cakery with a towering array of sweet treats, freshly baked on the premises daily. Delicious creamy, herbaceous chicken and rocket sandwiches, monstrous chocolate and peanut butter brownies, and, crucially, hot coffee. Tomboy, named after her son Tomislav, says owner Kate Marinkovich, has been open for five years.
Kate’s grandparents owned a dairy milk bar up north; Kate’s Mum, Lynsey Marinkovich, owned a catering business; and her Dad, Zuke Marinkovich, likes to cook using Mediterranean ingredients, celebrating his Croatian heritage. The love of cooking was inherited by all three children, Including Kate’s dancer sister Lucy who loves baking with ‘picture perfect’ finesse.
At the door Kate’s Dad, Zuke, greets customers with a warm smile, offering magazines and filling water glasses. “I’ve been here about three years now. The business was growing and I had retired. So it kept me from mowing the lawns every day, and in here doing dishes.” Zuke enjoys getting to know the locals and calls his contribution “just helping out.” He’s modest – his maître d’ role is fundamental to the tiny cafe’s friendly vibe, and reflects his years working at Moore Wilson’s before retirement.
Kate has dedicated her career to hospitality and she’s entirely self taught. “I had the eventual goal of owning something but the focus for the majority was always front of house, the systems and the service”. Kate was working at Prefab when Bridget Dunn and Jeff Kennedy offered her the role of Head Baker. “I took it from there. That was the last piece of the puzzle and let me know I could open Tomboy.” Her acknowledgment of her parents’ support and help is tearful and heartfelt “In the beginning my Mum was here, right beside me doing the dishes and would come in the middle of the night when she was worried about me. Both of my parents have been instrumental in the success of Tomboy. They’ve really helped me”.
There’s a lot going on in Kate’s day. Already she has made a baby lemon cake topped with pink and white roses for pick-up, in the kitchen a pile of waffles awaits her, ready to assemble for a photo shoot in a Fix and Fogg campaign, along with a new staff member to train.
Sourcing local produce is important to Kate. She uses Ruth Pretty tomato chilli relish in her ham toasties, Island Bay pork and fennel sausages in Tomboy’s sausage rolls and ACME & Co’s famous Oli rolls for her sandwiches. She knows these products and namely the people behind them, having worked for Ruth Prettyand the Prefab team. She tells the story of mastering the Oli rolls. At Prefab when the original recipe was devised Kate customised the size and shape, and suggested brushing the ciabatta with oil before and after baking. The second brushing “straight when it comes out of the oven”, ensures the doughy rolls absorbs the oil beautifully.
Five years in small business hasn’t dampened her epicurean enthusiasm. Kate describes her love of Italian shortbread cookies soaked in vermouth, stuffed with Italian pastry cream and rolled in chopped pistachios.“Although every day I’m mentally working,” Tomboy is open for business Wednesday to Saturday and she can close the doors at 2 pm each day. “I was a single mum for so long so I didn’t want to sacrifice my home life. So the business works for me and not the other way around”.
Zuke has no intention of slowing down either. “I don’t want to retire again. I’ve got to keep doing something” he says. That means starting with dishes and opening the doors at 7.30 am. When I ask what it’s like to work with family, Zuke acknowledges “It’s unique, but honestly we don’t have much time to chat and break during the course of the day. Kate works extremely hard and puts in a lot of effort into it, so it’s good to back her up”.
Kate reflects on her relationship with Zuke, and the similar ways they approach life. She plans to cook her Dad a nice dinner for Father’s Day and get him an annual bottle of J&B Whiskey. The two mirror one another at work and have established a sense of traditional service at Tomboy that many hospitality institutions lack.