There are few foods in life that evoke more passion and thought than cheese, chocolate and perhaps cake. But tucked away in Wellington’s Hannah’s Laneway is Fix & Fogg, a little peanut buttery that is grinding their way to the top of the food scene with their signature jars of spread.
General Manager Thom Brooks talks about peanut butter the way a sommelier talks about wine – he describes the soil, regions, taste profiles and how long to roast to maximise the flavour.
“Peanuts, like grapes, pick up the flavours from the soil. So if you taste a peanut from a different country it’s completely different. Argentina seems to be sweeter. Australia seems to be a lot more robust and a really strong flavour. So that’s the one we went for to create a really savoury bold flavour. Then you’ll see with the colour that we roast quite dark, that’s been one of our main points of different, just to take it right to the edge and bring the most out of the product,” explains Brooks as he sips his latte outside of Leeds Street Bakery.
Around the corner is their workshop and vendor window. A blue and white hand-stitched flag hangs above announcing “Peanut Butter” to passersby itching for a taster stick. The aroma itself will draw you in, a slightly salty, slightly sweet smell hangs in the air.
Roman and Andrea Jewell started the business in 2013, wanting to create a product that is honest and without shortcuts. They trialled different grinders and equipment in a small location, just to try things out and then went to a few local markets in Wellington to get it out there.
“One of our strong points has been really good branding. Even from the start when we were really small, we got a good following really quickly,” said Brooks.
“From there we moved into a couple of small shops and then Moore Wilson’s picked it up, which is probably one of the greatest food store I think there is – it’s the best place to spend a couple of hours.”
The brand name is borrowed from Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days. The themes all have to do with adventure and travel and exploration and that’s sort of been what this business has been all along. There’s been no roadmap and they’ve been figuring everything out themselves along the way. They are trying to balance small scale quality with large scale availability.
They’re a band of seven now, but eight if you count their two wheeled delivery driver Russ from No Car Cargo – who bikes their beautiful jars around town – five boxes at a time.
Keeping their carbon footprint small carries throughout their operation and can been spotted with their recycling rack outside their window where people can bring back their used jars. They also donate to The Free Store, a non-profit on Willis Street.
Knowing they wanted to be a creative business, they have scrambled to fill orders and haven’t really stopped looking for new collaborations and opportunities.
They’ve released a couple of different flavours like “Smoke and Fire” which was the New Zealand Food Finalist and also “Dark Chocolate” which has been really popular.
“Starting off we were going to do a limited 200 jars of Smoke and Fire and sell them from the window but Moore Wilson’s called up and wanted some as well. And it sold out in about a day or two.”
The brand’s success speaks to the city’s culture and history for creation and innovation.
“So it’s just been continuing that Wellington tradition of taking a product and seeing how far you can take it in terms of creativity and striving to be the best that you can, and we spend a lot of time trying to source where we get our ingredients from and really not taking any shortcuts.”
“I think that can be said for anyone on the laneway as well. The guys at the soda place, chocolate factory, pizzeria, the bakery and the cafe. It’s such an interesting place to have so many likeminded people condensed into such a small square.”
While support and community are usually two of the biggest challenges for a small business, Fix & Fogg says that this has been far from the reality in Wellington. No one else is doing exactly what they’re doing and it’s a product that, unless you have a peanut allergy, most people really like.
“To start with, and still, we’ve had a huge amount of support in Wellington. I think it’s a city where people get on board really quickly. They like to support things that are local and for us it was amazing that we could just go into shops, make a little appointment and talk with the owner directly and with people that had heard about us,” said Brooks.
Brooks says that there is a friendly culture and ability to walk up the road, ask questions and easily talk to other businesses about their challenges and struggles, and collaborate because the city is so compact and close, they can just all work together really easily.
In terms of being able to collaborate with other businesses, they’ve got a chocolate bar that they do with the Wellington Chocolate Factory where they use their smooth peanut butter with the freeze-dried raspberries.
Their delicious jars can be found stocked around the city, New Zealand and now Australia. But they’re still focussed on quality and staying true to the original method. Transparency is also central to the business and as they grow and expand their quarters they will be working to make sure that the experience is still the same.
“What we’re doing at the moment is, we’re still making it the exact same way that we did when we started. We haven’t gotten bigger machinery, we’ve just gotten more people because the way that we do things are pretty labour intensive. We’re working really hard to maintain the quality and stay true to that. I think quite a few people get disillusioned when smaller brands that they’ve followed and liked start to get bigger and I think everyone wants people to succeed but it’s only when the quality changes that people get upset so we’re set on keeping the quality the same.”