Earlier this year we quietly lifted a glass to toast Floriditas turning 15. While some in the hospitality industry have undoubtedly been doing it tough in recent months, it’s good to talk to Julie Clark, co-owner of this beloved spot nestled on Wellington’s Cuba Street, and revel in some positive notes. “In the midst of all the badness, there’s some goodness,” she says. “These are really exciting and invigorating times.”

It’s well-reported that chef Hayden McMillan and his wife, Dominique, joined Julie and her husband James as co-owners of Floriditas in January 2020. But just weeks later came lockdown. The team chose to spend the time redeveloping the menu, so when they reopened it was with a new slant, comprising solely of Hayden’s food, a celebration of Australasian influences and New Zealandness and a more plant-based approach.

And changes are apparent not just in the menu. “They’ve brought a new energy to Floriditas,” says Julie of Hayden and Dom, “and the whole place is looking smarter. Dom has put her touch on it.”

Julie’s focus remains with the baking, for which Floriditas is justifiably renowned. It’s a love that bloomed in London in the 1980s where she polished her skills mentored by Gerhard Jenne, a fifth-generation German baker, who fostered in her a fascination with the exactitude of pastry and the science of baking. Returning to New Zealand, Julie and James opened Clark’s Food Merchants in 1988, riding the beginning of the coffee revolution and harnessing the burgeoning interest in brunch. Little did they know it was the first of many (including two Clark’s Library Cafés, Nikau and Lorettas) and that it would set them on the path to becoming Wellington hospitality mavens. “I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’m eight restaurants in,” says Julie, honoured that some people who came as kids to the library café now bring their kids to Floriditas.

Keeping things fresh and relevant is top of mind, so Julie continues to innovate and develop recipes to reflect changing needs and interesting new flavours, including the new recipe here for coconut pistachio cookies. A few years ago she took out about 30% of the sugar from most of her recipes to accommodate changing tastes: now increasing requests for vegan baking have provided her next big project. “But,” she says, “like when we started doing gluten-free, I’m not having it until it’s totally delicious.”

Keen as she is to seek new flavour combinations and exciting plays on favourites for her own work, she’s quick to praise others, such as Mariah Grace of Grace Patisserie and Maxine Scheckter of Sugar Flour who, she says, are the new blood coming through and starting to raise the bar.

But don’t expect Julie to move over just yet. “I’m really excited about the next 15 years. We’ve still got something to say.” TRACY WHITMEY