Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Coffee in chains

The good news is that, after a slow summer, there are a lot of new cafés, restaurants and bars about to open. I can think of a dozen that are definitely on the way, with another half dozen or so intriguing rumours. The bad news is that most of the cafés that have opened recently, or are about to open soon, are chain stores.

Starting at the north end of the city, according to an article in today's Dominion Post, a branch of Esquires Coffee is planned for the ground floor of the Holiday Inn. I'd never heard of them before, which just goes to show how little time I spend outside of Wellington city: they're everywhere, and expanding rapidly. They get some brownie points for using locally-roasted organic Fairtrade coffee, but their interiors look bland and mallworthy, so don't expect anything exciting. It's a pity that Holiday Inn, in their quest to shake off their stuffy and generic image, didn't follow the example of their surprisingly good bar and restaurant Plate and look for something with a little more flair.

Then, of course, there's Gloria Jean's in the long-awaited but faintly disappointing Borders bookshop. As I said when Gloria Jean's first central Wellington shop opened, it's pretty much just a smaller version of Starbucks, so even if we're not getting invaded by Starbucks outlets, there are a lot of its little clones running around. Maybe if Borders had chosen a local operator for its in-house café (as well as not putting Te Reo books in the "foreign language" section and realising that no-one here uses the word "Math"), they'd have done a better job of convincing us that they're not just a faceless American chain.

As local café operators go, Mojo is one of the most loved. Sure, they're a chain of sorts, but they're our chain, and the thoughtful fitouts by architect du jour Allistar Cox are varied, welcoming and stylish. That, together with the quality of their coffee, has led to comments like this from the fans that set up the Mojo Coffee ZoomIn group: "I LOVE Mojo-I will marry someone from there and I will bake biscotti and we will have like 6 children and I will name them-Afagato,Latte.Mocha..you get the idea" (caffeine and spelling don't appear to be compatible). Their cartel is set to expand further, with a seventh café planned for one of the refitted spaces in the Hotel Wellington development, just north of the relocated Eyeball Kicks at 225 Cuba St.

Part of 'The Wellington' hotel/apartment development - future site of Caffe ItalianoIn fact, The Kick is about to have its Tiki mugs and Simon Morse posters surrounded by coffee beans, since the shop on the other side is soon to become a Caffé Italiano. From their website, they seem to be an importer and wholesaler of coffee machines, paraphenalia and coffee (from brands such as Serio and Caffé Molinari) rather than café operators, and an older website refers only to a "showroom" in an industrial part of Auckland. However, the logo on their window carries the tagline "caffé - delicatessen - beans & machines", and while the word "caffé" in that phrase is ambiguous, local gossip suggest that it will indeed include a café. Cuba St doesn't exactly suffer from a lack of coffee, but if the delicatessen side of the business is any good, it could be a welcome addition.

Martha's Pantry at the corner of Cuba St and Karo DriveFinally, right at the top of Cuba St at number 276, Martha's Pantry has just opened. Actually, the entrance is just around the corner in Karo Drive, but the proprietors can't bear the name and prefer to keep a Cuba St address. Yes, this is the shop and "tea rooms" that I was so sniffy about back when Karo Drive first opened!

There's certainly a very Thorndon-y tweeness about the place, with its doilies, scented candles, antiques and cupcakes, but I have to say it's very nice if that's your sort of thing. Also, it's a continuation and expansion of Mary McLeod Paintworks, which has been here for several years, and since the Martha in question (not that one) was one of the building's early inhabitants, she's no Tipsy McStagger. It's the first new shop or café to open in the wake of the bypass, and it brings a bit of (slightly prim and proper) life to the "heritage Disneyland" that was once upper Cuba St. Besides, if New York is anything to go by, the fashionable people of Wellington may soon be storming up here in search of cupcakes. And most of all, it's the only new café in Wellington that's not part of a chain.


At 6:11 pm, March 24, 2007, Blogger Martha Craig said...


At 2:00 am, March 25, 2007, Blogger Joanna said...

I hate with a fiery passion that I now have goddam motherfucking Tina Arena in my head now.

At 7:58 am, March 25, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shame the courtyard is next to a great noisy road. That will spoil any reverie over the tea cups one might otherwise have in a tea shop. Just imagine how gorgeous this tea shop would have been in the real Tonks Ave, in a time when the decision makers had come to their senses and decided to can the bypass and spend all the dough on public transport? Oh well, one can dream....

At 9:53 am, March 26, 2007, Blogger Rich said...

Gloria Jean's == insipid Aussie *$s waanabee.

At 1:33 pm, March 26, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As rich said: GJ's and Esquires blight the landscape in the US and Australia as much (nearly) as StarSchmucks. The problem is, they both make WORSE coffee than Starbucks. If thats possible.

At 12:41 pm, March 29, 2007, Blogger Unknown said...

The other problem with Gloria Jeans (alas, they make the best chai latte I've ever had, although the coffee is Starbucks-type meh) is that they send a big swodge of money off to an organisation called Mercy Ministries, whose politics, shall we say, are not the kind I want to support. I do a big rant about it on my L/J here. In short, I won't be buying their chai lattes again.


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