The newest member of the Eyebright staff is Kathie Russell. She never applied for the job, it just happened. Three years ago, keen to take up spinning, she joined our weekly spinning group, loved it, excelled at it, and kept on coming. Therese then asked her to help out in the shop over Christmas. Now Kathie is a permanent employee. She is not just a talented knitter, spinner, and weaver. outstanding customer service is part of her DNA.
Before marrying, Kathie’s name was Taylor; of Stoke’s Hurst and Taylor Pharmacy. Those who remember her dad, the pharmacist, will understand the meaning of customer service. She’s a chip off the old block.
Kathie childhood home was on the Ridgeway, but she had a pony at Annesbrook. Back in the days when the traffic was always like our recent level three lock-down, she and a couple of friends would often ride to Tahuna for a gallop on the beach.
Upon graduation from Nayland College, Kathie got a job with the ANZ bank, and became good friends with another staff member, Peter Russell, who’s family owned Russell’s Curtains.
In 1985, at the age of eighteen, she moved to Christchurch to continuing her career with ANZ. Peter remained in Nelson.
Three year’s elapsed, and Kathie moved back. She and Peter ended up flatting together, found out how much they liked each other, and got married.
Peter joined the Family business and, with his father, embarked on growing the business. They employing more staff, bought more vans, and set up a shop in Blenheim and Dial-A-Drape vans Christchurch.
Kathie and Peter’s family was growing also. By 1990 they had a daughter, a son and another on the way. The business was, however, in trouble. The branches were proving impossible to control.
In 1995 Russell’s Dial-a-Drape changed hands with a staff buy out. Kathie and Peter, with four children ranging from six months to eight years old, lost everything and living in a rental started the long slog towards recovery. Peter took a day job with ‘Window Treatments’, as well as various night jobs including security, working at KFC, and after-hours installation of curtains and blinds.
Kathie made rag dolls and teddies to sell at a shared stall at the Saturday Market. It was not great money, but it was something she could work at during stolen moments while child minding.
Finally, an opportunity arrived. An Italian friend of Peter’s offered to finance the creation of a Mediterranean Food Warehouse. Food was something of which Peter knew nothing, but he had a PhD in business administration from the University of Hard Knocks, and there is no finer training.
In 2002 the warehouse opened in a two-story building on the corner of Halifax Street and Paru Paru Road in Nelson.
They caught a favourable wind. Kiwi’s were tired and meat and potatoes, GDP was growing, and new eateries were opening. They called it ‘The Mediterranean Food Warehouse’, and Nelsonians fell in love it. It became the ‘go to’ place for ‘on trend’ foodies. Peter was, however, wary of spreading himself to thin, so he sold off the retail side, in order to concentrate on wholesale.
After eight years renting, in 2003, the Russells moved back into a house of their own. It was in Wakefield, so there was a longer commute for Peter, but that would soon to change.
With their building soon to be demolished to clear the way for expansion of Nelson Library, Peter bought a Richmond based food distributor called ‘Food Specs’ (previously ‘Daniel Distributors’). That gave him not only a new base, but also a host of new product lines. Peter then culled the range to those in keeping with customer demand of the day.
In 2009 the Russell family was on the move once again. This time to Brightwater and a grand 150- year-old house in need of TLC, ten acres of river flats, and host of out buildings.
Peter’s parents joined them on the property, as did their daughter, her husband and their children.
In 2015, Kathie and Peter’s youngest, was in his third year of a four-year degree in software design at Canterbury University. Kathie and Peter travelled down to see him playing guitar in a band, and bring him home for the term break.
After performing he was coughing and the cough became worse over the next few days. Pain developed in his chest. Breathing became difficult and then dangerously difficult. Kathie and Peter rushed him to Accident and Emergency, and he was immediately transferred to intensive care, where he spent the night. When Kathie next saw him at 6 the next morning. He was on assisted breathing with tubes coming out of his nose and an oxygen mask over his mouth.
Kathie was sent home to pack overnight bags for herself and Nick. Upon her return they were both helicoptered to Wellington, and the next stage in what was to be Kathie’ worst nightmare. Extending across his ribcage and up one side, Nick had a tumour that was crowding out his heart, and lungs.
Nick had the vitality of youth and was therefore able to endure aggressive chemotherapy that would never be used on an older person. But he was, of course, very unwell. Kathie remained with him in Wellington, staying alone, at first, in a motel and then at the Ronald McDonald house with Nick. She would get up each morning for a brisk walk, and then be back for when Nick awoke and was ready for his first pills of the day. When Nick was having treatment and she could explore the city, frequenting the wool shops. Many jerseys were knitted in the nine months that they remained in Wellington.
Peter had to keep the business going, but never missed a single weekend, flying up on Friday and returning on Sunday.
Finally, Nick and Kathie returned, but for another year and half they had to return to Wellington monthly for further chemo.
Nick was declared “all clear” at the end of 2017.
The worst part is the lingering fear that the cancer could return, but neither Kathie or Nick allow themselves to dwell on that thought.
The Mediterranean Food Warehouse is now operates out of a new building on Kathie and Peter’s property. With their first son and son in law starting to take over the reins from Peter the business continues to grow, going from strength to strength. Peter has a very short commute (50 meters), and Kathie has just a short drive to her new job at Eyebright.
Nick returned to University to complete the final year of his degree and is now a partner in a software company. Soon you’ll be able to see his handiwork in the electronics supporting a new game show similar to ‘The Chase’ but for kids. It’s the brainchild of Jason Gunn and his partner.