Real Life

How the Meehans fed the masses in earthquake aftermath

Just one of the many incredible stories of selflessness to come out of the Christchurch earthquake was the tale of the Meehan couple, who kept their bakery open despite the rubble.

Christchurch bakery couple
Christchurch bakery couple

Approaching their retirement, Christchurch couple Martin and Jann Meehan put everything on the line to achieve their dream. And in those desperate days after the 2011 quake, it was their popular Kidd’s Cakes and Bakery in the suburb of St Albans that customers flocked to.

At the time, the couple had a choice – they could close their doors for two weeks and claim insurance or they could carry on and feed the masses. For them, it was an easy decision.

“We felt we had to be open for people because it gave them that little bit of normality. To be able to pop in to the bakery, get bread and milk – staple things – suddenly became very important,“ Jann says.

But what they were able to achieve is nothing short of a miracle. With the help of a dedicated team, they opened their shop the very next day, tunnelling in through tipped over machinery, and clearing paths through smashed glass and damaged stock.

By 11 o’clock that morning, the bakers were holding trays of pies and bread. Martin worked 10 days straight, making two trips a day to get water from a market garden so they could keep baking.

“I was absolutely buggered,“ he admits. “I don’t know how we got through it. Even the toilet situation was precarious!”

With daily queues down the street, Martin (68) and Jann (65) were also determined to hold onto their dream of one day owning their own premises. They were part-way through the development of a site next door for their purpose-built bakery when the quake hit.

For the couple, who had never had debt, it was a huge risk. They sold their home and moved to their bach in Charteris Bay to help pay the bills that were mounting, hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time. “We were in debt beyond our eyeballs, with loans of almost $3 million,“ Martin tells. “It’s not the sort of thing you think, ‘Oh, I’ll go into retirement owing millions of dollars’, so we just had to have a bit of faith.“

Jann laughs, “We didn’t expect we’d be this age when we finally did it, but I remember reading about this 80-year-old who started a business and I thought, ‘If other people can do it, we can too.’“

With their money running out, the couple, who have three sons Simon (43) Chad (41) and Damian (36), and five grandchildren, announced the opening of their building in January 2014, by simply placing a sign in the shop window. They expected an easy opening, but the locals came in droves. Martin says their success is all due to their amazing staff.

Over the past five years, the team has won numerous awards, including first place in the Great New Zealand Hot Cross Bun Competition in 2013 and 2015. And now the building they put their heart and soul into has been nominated for an award in the retail category in the New Zealand Commercial Projects Awards. As the anniversary of the quake draws near, it’s motivation for them to continue.

“I feel very proud of what we’ve achieved,” says Jann. “We’re both retirement age but we can’t think of retiring. We’ve got a lot of energy, enthusiasm and drive – and that’s a good thing.

Words: Anastasia Hedge

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