Since 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.