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Capital Questions March ImageSince com­ing to Wel­ling­ton to study hos­pit­al­ity in 1979, Kier­an Hughes has been a key part of the Wel­ling­ton food and drink scene. Pas­sion­ate about fant­ast­ic cus­tom­er ser­vice, Kier­an has spent over 30 years work­ing in many of Wellington’s most icon­ic bars and eat­er­ies. After years of plan­ning and pre­par­a­tion, he partnered with an old hos­pit­al­ity school friend to open Vic­tor­ia St Café in 2006.

Kier­an took time out from the morn­ing rush to chat with Fish­Head over one of his own cof­fees at the café.

After a long day at work I go for a drink at… as I’ve got­ten older I enjoy going back to my house in Ber­ham­pore to have a relax­ing drink at home. If I did go some­where though, I would choose Duke Carvell’s or Dragon­fly. They’re both hid­den gems with good service.

For din­ner I like to go to… WBC on Vic­tor­ia Street is really good. We take our sev­en-year-old there and it’s good because it can suit chil­dren, but also has really good food and good ser­vice. It doesn’t look like much from the street, but then you get in there and it opens up like an Aladdin’s cave. Grill Meats Beer is also good for a cas­u­al snack and a craft beer.

On week­ends you will find me… get­ting away from the crowds. I spend every day talk­ing to hun­dreds of people so it’s nice to do some­thing dif­fer­ent when I have a day off. I’ve always been a walk­er and I love all of the places that you can do that in Wel­ling­ton. Zeal­and­ia is a fant­ast­ic place to walk around because it’s very quiet and you see the mag­ni­fi­cent bird­life. It’s an abso­lute treas­ure and people for­get that it’s so close to the city.

My favour­ite place in Wel­ling­ton is… the Makara coast. It’s a fant­ast­ic walk right around the coast and then you come back over the track at the top. Again, there’s usu­ally nobody else around. We often take a pic­nic over there and enjoy look­ing over the sea and see­ing the South Island in the distance.

From Vic­tor­ia St Café I get to see… a dif­fer­ent side of the city. You see all sorts of things and all sorts of dif­fer­ent people because we are one of the first cafés open in the morn­ing — everything from trades­people to rub­bish col­lect­ors. You see the same people every day and it can be very inter­est­ing to observe the early-morn­ing activ­it­ies that many people nev­er get to see. 

The hard­est thing about own­ing and oper­at­ing a café in Wel­ling­ton is… Wel­ling­to­ni­ans expect per­fec­tion. Wel­ling­ton is often called the hos­pit­al­ity and cof­fee cap­it­al of New Zea­l­and, which means that everything that we pro­duce has to be of a very high stand­ard. Even tour­ists that come here expect some­thing spe­cial. I think in any oth­er city the expect­a­tion might not be quite as high. But that’s part of the reas­on why I do this. I think that I can get that part right.

Some­thing that makes Vic­tor­ia St Café unique is… we get mar­vel­lous sun­light! From early in the morn­ing until we close at night, the sun moves around the build­ing and floods in through our glass walls. In Wel­ling­ton nobody gets much sun, so it’s nice to be some­where bright and sunny. It’s also nice to be off the main street, because it gives the café a relaxed and spa­cious feeling.

The heart behind Vic­tor­ia St Café is… to get to know people and treat them well. We want people to come in here and feel com­fort­able, relaxed and feel at home. One of the things that I tell to all of my staff is that I want them to ima­gine that every­one that comes through the door is a friend of theirs that they’ve invited over to their house. I want our cus­tom­ers to have a great time here and have a desire to come back and see us again.