It’s hard to believe how much life experience fits into the story of 29-year-old Taiena Ene. Taiena’s Samoan parents raised her as an out-of-the-box-thinker, something that in Pasifika families is not usually supported, says Taiena. “But mum always threw me in at the deep end and trusted me to end a solution.”
After Taiena left high school in 2007 she completed a Diploma in Travel & Tourism at EIT. Thinking about becoming a fight attendant she went on to the Air NZ Airline Training School (now Air NZ Aviation Institute). After completing the six-month-long course she was offered a job in Auckland but came back to Hawke’s Bay to be with her long-term boyfriend instead.
She started working at Scenic Hotel Te Pania as a housekeeper but was soon promoted to a waitressing position and from there to restaurant supervisor. Her boss noticed her apparent management and people skills and sent Taiena to one of the group’s hotels in Tonga. Supported by her managers she stayed on the island for half a year to complete a management trainee programme.
Back in New Zealand she married her New Caledonian boyfriend, moved to Noumea, and in 2015 their son was born. “On the surface I was living a happy life but I felt that there was more to me than being a housewife.” Taiena returned to Napier with her son and started to work, initially back at the hotel and then at Hohepa as support care worker.
When her husband asked for a divorce she was deeply shocked and it took her a while to get over the trauma. “In hindsight the divorce helped me to push out of the box and to sort myself out.
It’s interesting but whenever I had to reboot, refocus or take a career decision I returned to EIT. Anyway, that’s why I enrolled in a Diploma in Applied Business.”
The idea was to start up her mum’s backyard barbecue business professionally. “Mum’s concept had so much potential and targeted a niche market. A lot of the orchard boys came to us to get their food.”
Shortly after the two women registered their business “Lito Blackie BBQ” in spring last year, the next stroke of fate hit when Taiena’s beloved mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer and Taiena became her full-time carer. When her mother passed away just after Christmas, Taiena knew she would
embrace her mother’s legacy.
She decided on adding a Diploma in Cookery to her list of qualifications. “I just love the fresh passion of my fellow students. It’s great when you are surrounded by people who are dreaming just like you,” she says. Yet, Taiena is not only dreaming, she makes things happen. In April, Taiena kicked-off “Lito Blackie BBQ” with the help of her family and student friends.
“For now, customers can order a set lunch on Saturday via Facebook and we deliver it. But I’m looking into offering our food at Sunday markets too.” In two years’ time Taiena plans to open her own restaurant in Napier. “I already have the name for it, Mama Lia Island Bar & Grill. Lia was the name of my mother.”