Lei: The new cafe bringing the Pacific back to Ponsonby

Photo: Ken Downie

At Natasha Finau and brother Saione Greer’s Ponsonby cafe, a vanilla scent hangs in the air. This, alongside tropical flowers – fresh, faux and painted – and the sweet sounds of R&B makes you feel like you’re lunching in a faraway paradise, rather than underneath a massive Countdown. Of all the flowers in the room, the most striking is the enormous handmade lei next to the door – a welcome symbol and display of the sibling’s Tongan ancestry. “This [Ponsonby] used to be Polynesian central,” says Finau, as she fondly recalls her extended families ties to the area.

But the room, designed with Anya Brighouse of Beautiful Bedlam, isn’t just an ode to the islands; Finau and her partner had always wanted to open a cafe of their own but never got the chance before he passed away last year. She’s now ticking off their combined bucket list by herself, starting here. Help from Finau and Greer’s siblings and 20 longtime friends – who are all members of a group called #friendsarefamilytoo on Instagram – have made this possible. Their grainy portraits sit framed, above the pass, as safe guarders and honorary employees. 

The menu is simple, and while there are some “naughty treats” like pani popo (coconut buns), the food is nourishing – avocado salad with a poached egg, fruit-topped porridge et al, because Finau wants to encourage healthy eating in her community. Two of seven siblings, Finau and Greer also want to show it’s okay not to play it safe when life doesn’t go the way you think it will. “I said to Saione, how did two coconuts end up here!?” Finau laughs, “This is the biggest risk I’ve ever taken.”

Lei Cafe
4 Williamson Ave