Order a coconut milk cappuccino and a vegan banana muffin at Munch on Broadway Avenue and the staff won’t bat an eyelid.

At Munch, their niche is catering for people with food allergies and intolerances. A 100% gluten free and nut free premises, they offer keto, vegan, low fodmap and vegetarian options. Their inclusive and unique concept is proving popular with a wide range of diners and thanks to social media and word of mouth, Munch has become a destination eatery for people from the Manawatū and beyond.

“We even had a busload of people with coeliac come down from Hawke’s Bay to eat here recently,” says Munch owner Veronica James.

Originally in Downtown shopping mall, Munch made the shift to being entirely gluten-free when it moved into a bigger premises on Broadway Avenue in September 2020.

James has Coeliac Disease and a serious nut allergy so she knows first-hand the anxiety people can face when dining out. She wanted to create a space where everyone could eat, chill out and feel normal – that vision is now a reality.

Munch’s tagline and ethos is “Inclusive Eating”. They do their best to cater to the dietary needs of every customer, even if it means specially preparing a safe meal for them.

“We get coeliacs come in here and they can choose anything from our menu and cabinet. Suddenly they’re overwhelmed with being able to dine out ‘normally’. Something changes in them and they realise they’re just like everyone else.”

“People’s gratitude is amazing,” says James.

Being inclusive isn’t limited to the food – it’s about welcoming diversity to the cafe. A sticker on the front door welcomes the rainbow community and the toilets are gender neutral. The staff are a mixture of nationalities. Everyone is welcome.

People are often surprised by the “big city feel” when they walk into Munch, with its two-story layout. James teamed up with her son Brodie to do the fitout. They’ve created a unique décor James describes as “eclectic bordering on eccentric”, creating a strong sense of place – something which James believes is essential for a successful eatery.

“People like a base. They like somewhere they can call their own.”

The walls are decorated with items like old record covers, bevelled mirrors, and retro art pieces. It’s a visual feast. James bought most of the collection from opportunity shops. Customers have also donated items, each with a story and memories attached. An elderly woman comes in regularly to visit the mirror she donated. A young boy is excited to sit in ‘his’ armchair from home.

Looking around, everyone can spot familiar items.

“People come in and see artwork or something that they had in their childhood. It gives them that connection straight away.”

The counter is made of wood upcycled from the Massey University science labs adding a uniquely Manawatū flavour.

“That’s got scratches on it and there’s some pretty hilarious things etched on there. We didn’t sand any of that out.”

An intriguing mural by Whanganui artist Mike Marsh tells the story of James’ life and is a popular backdrop for customer photos.

Munch will soon open a fully licenced bar inside the premises. They’ll serve a range of gluten free and keto beverages including beer and cocktails.

James believes there are three essential ingredients in building a successful eatery. Great food, great service and great atmosphere. Munch delivers on all three.

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