Anna Randall and Daniel Eisenhut believe there’s something magical about mushrooms, and something equally magical about Oamaru. They speak to Ashley Smyth about their recent move and watching their fledgling business, Waitaki Mushrooms, take off.
For some, last year’s Level 4 lockdown offered time to reflect on priorities and seize opportunities.
Former Aucklanders Anna Randall and Daniel Eisenhut are two of those people.
The couple had previously considered moving south, but were nervous about leaving the bright lights and busyness of city life.
When lockdown hit, Miss Randall’s career in television production stalled and she was left considering other options. Despite Mr Eisenhut’s web design company going into overdrive, a move south became more appealing.
They eventually decided on Oamaru, with its mountain and sea views, affordable property and mix of small-town charm, but big-town options.
“It’s a great town. People know about it, but it’s almost a hidden gem. It’s so, so liveable. We love it,” Miss Randall said.
After finding a house in town they could put their own stamp on, they started Waitaki Mushrooms in September, and have not regretted either move.
“I’ve always sort of been interested in food. I mean it’s great, because it’s something people do need, and mushrooms are good for you, as well. It’s just a nice sort of thing to be providing,” Miss Randall said.
Mr Eisenhut, who is originally from Germany, said they had been trying to think of something they could do that was “recession-proof”.
“I was always fascinated by growing stuff, I was always fascinated by aquaponics, you know, where you have fish and plants in one, but it seemed like you need a lot of space for that … and it was just like, ‘OK, what else is similar and takes less space? Oh, mushrooms’.”
They learned a bit about growing mushrooms online, a bit from another grower, and a lot through trial and error, Miss Randall, who is the driving force behind the operation, said.
“It’s easy, but hard. It sort of is a tricky thing, but once you kind of get it, you’re like ‘OK’.
“They like humidity and air and light, but not too much of any of them. They’re happy when they’re happy and when they’re not they let you know instantly .. You lose them.”
The mushrooms are grown in plastic bags with just straw and water, and once they “pin” or fruit, it can be a matter of hours before they are ready to be harvested, and they cannot be left too long.
“I was mind-blown,” Mr Eisenhut said. “Like, from when they pin. You just see this tiny little pin. A few days later, if that, you have these ginormous mushrooms, and you’re like that?’
“Like overnight. It’s just fascinating.”
The pair are growing three varieties – white velvet, phoenix, and pink oyster. These have a more pronounced flavour than button mushrooms, a smoother texture, and are more interesting to look at.
“They hold their shape really well when you cook them as well, so they look quite pretty on the plate,” Miss Randall said.
The mushrooms are used in the kitchens at Moeraki restaurant Fleur’s Place, and Oamaru’s Pen-y-bryn Lodge. They are also stocked at Moa Bakery, Cakery, Real Food Pantry, Garden Fresh and Brydone Wholefoods and can be found at the Oamaru Farmers’ Market.
The next move is to get them into more stores throughout the Waitaki district, and possibly further afield.
“It seems to be generally a slightly more regional product,” Mr Eisenhut said.
“Like, usually every regional town has their own growers, but not everybody is doing a similar good job. We have seen some in Queenstown in supermarkets that looked really, like, mushy in plastic bags.”
Miss Randall said they pride themselves on the quality of their product, which needs to be transported quite quickly, kept refrigerated, and stored in paper bags to help keep them fresh.
Waitaki Mushrooms also sell grow kits, so people can experience the joy of growing their own.
“Once you see how they grow, it just makes it more exciting.”
The couple is engaged and have a daughter Evelyn, who is 2 and a-half.
Their marriage plans for last year were put on hold due to Covid.
The young family had no regrets about their move south. They were finding more time to spend together, which would have previously been spent stuck in Auckland traffic.
“Most days, we actually walk up to the lookout. We get that family time where we just have a chat and Evelyn walks along the cannon,” Miss Randall said.