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Burnley Superette: dairy beauty at its finest (Photo: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)
Burnley Superette: dairy beauty at its finest (Photo: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)

KaiJuly 24, 2023

What makes a dairy beautiful?

Burnley Superette: dairy beauty at its finest (Photo: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)
Burnley Superette: dairy beauty at its finest (Photo: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)

These everyday icons often go unnoticed, but some of them are absolute stunners, reckons Charlotte Muru-Lanning.

This is an excerpt from our weekly food newsletter, The Boil Up.

If for Aristotle beauty is symmetry, and for Plato some essential and eternal form, what, then, to make of the beautiful dairy? Those everyday New Zealand icons of daily staples, newspapers, ice creams, bags of lollies and pies are perhaps not often considered at all, in our intermittent and fleeting encounters, as things of beauty; their pervasiveness, especially in high-density areas, means they often go altogether unnoticed.

But some of them are complete stunners. Plato and Aristotle probably retired from the philosophy grind before they even had the chance to contemplate these rare gems of human life. But they would most likely agree that some (but not all) dairies are very beautiful.

For those enlightened to the wonders of the beautiful dairy, you become loyal to them, even if they’re not the handiest to you. They are the dairies you linger in just a little longer than you thought you would. Stores that bring a sense of occasion to your day.

What exactly it is that makes them so sublime is hard to pinpoint, but some dairies have a certain je ne sais quoi. In my case, the golden ratio is rather subjective and quite specific. Features that add to their allure include a well-stocked supply of Fresh Up Big Fizz Feijoa Burst in the fridge, a selection of hazardous-looking lollies that even the supermarket duopoly wouldn’t dare sell, dairy-only exclusives like Shasta Tiki Punch or Jack N Jill corn curls, hand-painted signage, knick knacks, fresh flowers for sale and, perhaps most vitally, familiar faces behind the till. The most beautiful dairies are cluttered, filled with idiosyncrasies and unspoiled by the visual assault of copious corporate branding that has become ever more common in the dairy landscape.

Manohar Dairy on Symonds Street and Burnley Superette on Dominion Road. (Photos: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)

Of course, there are many gorgeous dairies around the country, but I wanted to highlight two of my local favourites: Manohar Dairy on Symonds Street and Burnley Superette on Dominion Road in Auckland.

Manohar Dairy is at the simplistic end of the beauty spectrum. From the outside, it’s rather unassuming, austere even. Its shop front is simple: old-fashioned black hand-painted lettering on a plain white backdrop. In a land of dairies enveloped by garish green V Energy Drink hoardings or entirely shrouded in Coca-Cola advertising, it’s respite for the eyes to see an exterior so simple. The inside of Manohar Dairy is unusual – narrow, long and high-ceilinged. At the very back, a charming mirrored shelf awaits and the otherwise plain surrounding walls are punctuated by slightly faded posters of treats from the past, like Fruju Pulp Frusion and “Moo-quake” milkshake syrup.

Manohar Dairy features faded posters of treats from the past (Photo: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)

Current owner Kim has been in the shop for 30 years, but reckons the dairy was operating at least 20 years before that – the hand-painted signage and posters on the walls were all there when she took over. And there they remain today. When I ask her why she’s kept them up, despite many of the products being extinct, she says with a shrug, “I like the old,” before pointing with delight at a poster advertising 18 cent ice blocks, tucked almost out of sight behind the counter.

Customers are beckoned in to Burnley Superette by a weathered ‘open 7 days’ sandwich board (Photo: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)

A couple of kilometres away is Burnley Superette – where customers are beckoned in by a “open 7 days” sandwich board, weathered by decades spent out in the elements. Hot pink gerberas and daffodils spill out onto the footpath from the shop, and upended bouquets of dried roses hang in the front window. This is dairy beauty at its finest. There are all the dairy requisites, as well as more unexpected items – shower loofahs, wine bottle openers and wasabi. And the space is bursting with memories too.

“Look at the door,” says owner Avami Patel, who took over the dairy in 2013, referring to the old glass-panelled front door fitted with its original letter slot and bell. “People are always like ‘your door’s so nice, can we buy it?’”. Patel is sentimental about the objects in the shop, and like Kim of Manohar Dairy, enjoys the energy these precious artefacts from before her proprietorship bring to her dairy.

Many of the objects are decades old, some much older, explains Sanjay Chhiba, whose parents Natu and Rukhi opened the dairy in the 1970s and sold it to Patel. (Chhiba’s family no longer run the dairy but he happened to be making a visit on the day I popped in). Out the front, bespoke trolleys built by Chhiba’s brother to fit the unique shape of the space remain. There’s still a (now inoperable) camera in the front door from an attempt to catch a mysterious newspaper thief. Even less glamorous objects like the pie warmer, the fridges and the no-slip floor mats are legacies from Chhiba’s parents’ tenure. On the top of the facade are decorative concrete Hershey’s kisses-shaped blobs, likely over a century old, which Chhiba and his brother discovered were in fact unattached while exploring the roof as kids. At every nook of the shop he shows me, Chhiba has another anecdote, another memory of how this tiny shop shaped his childhood.

Burnley Superette (Photo: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)
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