Forta Leza Restaurant proudly displays its dairying heritage in the external architecture of the building and the sign on the façade, which reads ‘Kati Kati Co-Op Dairy Company Ltd’.
The former Kati Kati Co-Op Dairy Company Ltd is today the Forta Leza Restaurant.
Today the former factory, built in 1902, is a restaurant owned and operated by the Belcher family who bought it in 1979.
Rob and Norma Belcher, with the help of her son Haydn and wife Mary, brought it back from a rundown business to an establishment which is today popular with locals and tourists.
They also honour the building’s 112-year history, with the story of its past on display in the restaurant.
That history begins in 1902, with Katikati’s Ulster settlers’ growing dairy industry.
Mervyn Stewart of Athenree, son of settlers Hugh and Adela, was a driving force behind the building of a dairy factory near the Waitekohe Stream.
It began as a small wooden building, which expanded as the number of suppliers and production increased.
A house was built for the factory manager in 1923 and a herd-testing service began for farmers. The company store was also added at this time to provide a single location for all trading operations.
Production was so great that in 1925, a tender for a new electric factory at £1825 was accepted. In the five years between 1922 and 1927, the factory doubled its output.
The company continued to grow slowly in spite of restrictions imposed by Word War II and competition from other companies.
In 1947 a new casein plant was established on the southern outskirts of Katikati.
The company considered further diversification into milk powders and added a powder plant to the casein factory in 1953.
In 1954 at an extraordinary general meeting, the company decided to move all operations to the casein plant site and called for tenders to build a new factory in 1957.
The old factory closed and finally in 1960 the factory store was moved into a new building at the township site.
It was Gary Rand who rescued the neglected cheese and butter factory in the early 1970s and armed with a chainsaw and basic tools, converted it into a restaurant and country inn.
It was his vision and skills which created the distinctly old English and Spanish style interior, complete with exposed rough timber, stucco, archway fireplaces and arched windows.
For more information, visit: www.fortaleza.co.nz
(History from Western Bay of Plenty District Council publication ‘Built Heritage’).