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Landing your dream job can be many things – for Rotorua couple Karen and Darren Huston it is being the owners of the Westend New World in their home town they adore.
“Rotorua is Rotorua.
It’s home and I couldn’t think of any better place to live,” Darren Huston told the Rotorua Daily Post.
The popular Rotorua-born-and-bred couple opened the city’s Edmund Rd 4 Square in 2013 – a business that went on to win two Rotorua Business Awards under their leadership.
But the lure of wanting to own a supermarket saw him go about his owners’ training – carrying it out at the Westend New World store.
“Look after it,” Darren Huston would say to the then-owner.
“I’ll be back one day.”
While there was an element of humour in his comment, for the Hustons it was always the ultimate dream.
But if the stars would align was always anyone’s guess.
Making their recent successful bid against five others for the Westend New World was a sweet victory.
“We love the forests and the lakes, this is home and this will be us now. We’re not going anywhere,” Darren Huston said.
He was in his late 30s when he thought, if he didn’t hurry up, he would find himself in IT forever – a career he fell into just because that’s how things ended up.
After earning a forestry degree he worked in the Kaingaroa Forest, then Waipa Sawmill and found himself helping out in IT when they got stuck.
Fast forward 12 years and he was a sought-after SAP (Systems Applications and Products) consultant – spending seven of those years in the United Kingdom where he and Karen had their two sons, Ollie and Toby.
When they returned home to Rotorua, Darren Huston figured it was time to decide what he wanted to be “when he grew up”.
So he swapped his suit for a Pak ‘n Save vest and started stacking baked beans tins with the vision of becoming a supermarket owner.
Karen Huston left her secondary school music teaching roles and together they opened Edmund Rd 4 Square.
Darren Huston said it was great to be able to own a business down the road from where he went to school – Western Heights Primary School and Rotorua Boys’ High School – and not far from Karen’s rural upbringing at Waikite Valley.
“You can’t get much more local than that.”
Karen Huston said it was amusing that just behind their new business – at the Rotorua Girls’ High School netball courts – was where she and Darren met for the first time all those years ago.
The pair were in the seventh form, with their schools having a friendly netball match.
Darren’s version of events goes like this: Boys’ high was “whipping girls’ high” in the first half, mainly thanks to their short defence circle and accurate shooting. But then on came tall Karen in the second half as goalkeep, opposing Darren with the goal shoot bib on.
While the goals weren’t slotting like they were previously, sparks were flying on the court and the rest, as they say, is history.
Karen Huston said after coming back to Rotorua following their UK stint, it was hard for the family to uproot and move to Kaikohe.
“We had such a strong bond with the 4 Square team, you don’t think another team will be the same but in Kaikohe they were so inclusive of us.”
The Kaikohe community particularly impressed the Hustons when Karen got very ill with Covid-19 – taking her out of action for 12 weeks.
Darren Huston said in hindsight his wife should have been hospitalised but it was a different time and everyone was scared of Covid then.
Karen said Darren ended up getting Covid and suddenly their team had to look after the supermarket during a difficult time of lockdowns and isolations.
“We were supposed to be looking after them but they were looking after us,” she said.
She said despite making strong connections in Kaikohe, nothing felt better than coming home where both of their parents were and her 97-year-old grandmother.
Darren Huston said it was awesome walking around the store and seeing so many familiar faces.
“I’ve literally bumped into my parents in the aisle, I’ve seen old school friends and old workmates. It’s great.”
The couple said it’s been a busy start to their local ownership jumping from managing a staff of 16 at Edmund Rd 4 Square, to 80 in Kaikohe and now 180, but they were relishing the opportunity.
“One of the best-case scenarios was getting a New World in the Waikato or Bay of Plenty and travelling back to Rotorua in the weekends but to be here in this neighbourhood where we grew up is just awesome,” Darren Huston said.