RANZ

Restaurant Association of New Zealand

World best city Wellington has more cafes, bars etc per capita than New York - so what's it like?

Wellington has just been named the fourth best city in the world; and might just be the best little capital in the world, according to travel guide Lonely Planet.

They said Wellington had 558,000 visitors a year, coffee averaged $3-$4 a cup, a 430ml handle of beer cost $7-$9; and it had quaint wooden houses tumbling down a ring of hills to the city centre, clustered on reclaimed land around the glittering harbour,

"Wellington is the country’s most innovative and inspiring city; it might just be the best little capital in the world and it is crammed with more bars, cafes and restaurants per capita than New York," Lonely Planet’s 2011 Best in Travel book says.

Wellington is also fast becoming one of the world’s cafe capitals. So what’s it like running a cafe in one of the best cities in the world, in one of the best spots in Wellington?

Lydia Suggate, one of the owners of Beach Babylon on Oriental Parade, said Wellington's weather had attitude, so did its people which was reflected in cafe and restaurant scene.

"We serve New Zealand's best coffee: smooth and rich Havana with pineapple lumps, the old Kiwi icon. But most of all, we probably have one of the best outdoor areas in Wellington. Where else can you can sit and gaze at the scantily-clad beach-goers and be seen on Wellington's most beautiful street.

"Wellington being named one of the best four cities in the world is a huge accolade for our city – and will help us too. Oriental Parade is without a doubt Wellington's most beautiful street and we have a beach too! Beach Babylonians have been known to take a dip after work.

"We have New Zealand's coolest fake beach (sand from Golden Bay) at Oriental Bay right by the centre of town. Wellington is the cultural and food capital of New Zealand. We have the wearable arts.

``We are just one of so many cafes and restaurants -- and we have the Hurricanes. We even have award-winning fine dining restaurants in our red light district. Wellington is a great little city, the concentration of people in the city centre keeps it vibrant and interesting with a huge sense of civic pride.’’

Three young women - Suggate, Kelly Chappell and Maura Rigby – own Beach Babylon, which is the type of cafe that has made Wellington more famous. The female trio met working as waitresses in the Malthouse in 2000 and after years out of the hospo industry, joined forces to create Beach Babylon. They had a vision, little to no cafe management experience and jumped into the deep end buying Manhattan Lounge, taking on sizeable loans and turning it into Beach Babylon.

Before Babylon, the site had many different incarnations. The list in the right order seems to be: Manhattan Lounge 2007-2008, Cafe Europa 2006-2007, Cafe Menton 2006-2004, Kites in the 1980s, Castaways 1980s and the Beachcomber in the 1960s-1970s.

The 232 Oriental Parade site on Oriental Bay has housed many cafes and restaurants, with people bowing out relatively quickly as the site has been difficult to make a profit on due to high outgoings along an expensive strip of real estate.

The last most successful sustainable cafe before Beach Babylon was probably the Beachcomber. The current beachy retro decor reminds older customers of the days when the old Beachcomber had semi-circular booths in brown leather and served great sugar-coated donuts.

" Beach Babylon has been a challenge. W we took over the site after many believed it was cursed and would never work,’’ Suggate said. "We manage 27 staff including temperamental chefs and starting a business with little experience was a huge learning curve. Our staffing numbers will go up this summer. We are the only place in Welly to serve a range of retro cheese and dessert fondues in 1970s ware.

"We believe one of the keys to our success is that we have taken the beach location into account, the last places were too formal for the area. During the day we serve The Fat Bastard - an epic big brekkie with steak & chips included and at night we can offer white chocolate fondue with dark chocolate brownie & marshmallows.’’

Suggate said they just loved working in the cafe in Wellington with a "death defying airport landing strip, a rugby team that understands it’s not all about winning and a fault line that doesn’t move (currently)’’.

She agreed with mayor Celia Wade-Brown who said Lonely Planet had only recognised what Wellingtonians had known for years, that Wellington was `simply the best place in New Zealand to live and visit’.

Media advisory: For further information, comment, photo or interview contact Lydia Suggate at Beach Babylon on (04) 801 7717 or 027 324 0769 or Kip Brook at Word of Mouth Media NZ