Lynda Gray

Endearing touches abound at the Farm Barn café.

An antler adorns the wooden rafters and is used to great creative effect in table and floral decorations. There’s deer on the wallpaper in the ladies’ loos, on linen tea towels in the gift shop, and in the outside animal farm yard enclosure is Mia the friendly hind.

The stylish deer touches are no surprise given manager Ellie Morgan’s background. Her parents David and Janet of Raincliff Station are deer farmers, and partner Brad Travers is a deer farm manager so there’s no shortage of inspiration – and antlers.

Ellie, 27, took on management of the cafe on the hill, a five-minute drive from the South Canterbury township of Fairlie, three years ago and happily admits it’s an all-consuming business.

“I guess I’ve always had a passion for food and hospitality but never imagined being this involved,” Ellie says.

‘I support small businesses when I can because I know what it’s like when you’re starting out and trying to build your reputation.’

After completely a degree in graphic design and visual communication at CPIT in Christchurch Ellie set off on an OE which included work in a five-star hotel in Scotland. On return and two years of working for an interior design business in Timaru the opportunity of the management role came along after Ellie’s family entered into a joint partnership with a local family.

Breathing a bit of new life into the popular stop-off for locals, and tourists is a challenge Ellie is running with, backed by the practical support and advice from family.

Her dad, brother Brychan and Brad have worked hard at developing the outdoor animal yard and viewing area which has become a drawcard for both kids and adults. Her mum works regularly at the café, and Millie a fourth-year law and arts student at the University of Canterbury helps most holidays.

“We all bring our ideas to the table because it’s hard doing it all by yourself.”

Also in the family support team is another Mia, the cocker spaniel who enjoys soaking up the sun and compliments from visitors.

Ellie has worked hard to create a homely yet contemporary country vibe in the cafe and gift shop spaces. There’s a cosy fireplace corner with woollen blanket cushions and crocheted throws, colourful floral touches on the tables, a tempting food cabinet display of salads and baking, and an on-trend offering of rural-inspired gift and souvenir items.

“I try to get good quality local produce for the cafe and products for the retail store. I support small businesses when I can because I know what it’s like when you’re starting out and trying to build your reputation.”

Management has not been without challenge; there’s been lots of long hours and she’s had to learn business skills such as delegating and budgeting. There’s also the training and coordination of eight staff.

“When it’s your baby you want to do it all, but you can’t, and you have to learn to prioritise.”

But a major cosmetic change that Ellie is particularly proud of, and has enhanced the overall look, is the new branding and signage.

There’s a growing list of ideas that could be rolled out as time and money permits, such as the catering and hosting of special functions, but Ellie’s mindful of taking one step at a time.

Her vision is to create a destination for adults, kids and families with awesome food, coffee, gifts and animals.

“With the food, gifts, animals and amazing views from up here there’s not a lot not to like.”