When Toni Wikatene was diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome about four years ago, she was determined not to rely on pills to manage it.
Instead, she started brewing kombucha.
After talking to a friend who was a naturopath, she researched kombucha (a fermented tea) and began making it.
She drank it religiously every morning and soon Toni noticed her IBS improved. She also turned from being an “angry mum” to a very chilled-out version.
“I’d get up in the morning and the kids would be yelling at each other and I’d yell at them back. But I noticed after three weeks of drinking it [kombucha], I was like, 'Oh well, I’ll see you in the car when you are ready,' ” she says, with a laugh.
She is at Christchurch’s Riverside Market today where she normally has a stall. But due to Convid-19 restrictions, it is pick-up only for her customers. She has a great laugh and you imagine she’d be a riot to hang out with.
Toni says she has lost over 40kg since she started drinking kombucha because her body seemed to want different types of foods like raw vegetables. When she was first experimenting with it, she was so impressed with the impact on her own wellbeing, she began giving it away to as many friends and family members as she could.
“They were like, 'You can’t just give it away, you’ve got to sell it.' I was like, 'Nah, don’t be silly, I couldn’t do that!' ”
She was working as a Maori mental health worker for Purapura Whetu Trust and had always had roles to follow her “community heart”.
But she decided to gather her courage and start her own small business.
“I thought, why not change my whole vocation? Why don’t I just give it a go?”
So she did. She set up The Kombucha Girls at the Riverside Market. Her 12-year-old daughter Aradize is her “marketing adviser” on social media because, while Toni is definitely a people person, she is not so happy in the realm of IT.
Her kombucha is brewed at Woolston’s Three Boys Brewery and, because she sells out so quickly, she doesn’t have to put preservatives in it.
“People always say it tastes so different to what you would buy in other places. To bottle it, you have to go through a different process than we do. Ours goes straight from the vats into the kegs and to Riverside,” she says.
She is grateful to her Riverside “whanau” for helping her out during the Convid-19 lockdown, by putting her products on their menus.
“Empire Chicken has huge social media following. He wanted to support me so he put my kombucha on his menu. And El Quincho and Malaysia Delights did the same – isn’t that amazing? We just look after each other,” says Toni.