Category Archives: The People

Personalities of the street

50 Years of Dining at the Matterhorn

The Matterhorn Café was established in 1963 by a Swiss man called Tony  , whom nine years later sold it to George Stucki and his wife Ursula they ran the business during the 1970’s and 1980’s. George was an amateur cameraman and he commissioned this clip where he talks passionately about his café and feeding his customers.

George was a fabulous baker his Black Forest Cake was an exotic afternoon tea and his cheese scones light and legendary. In the clip George refers to making sure they have enough grub for their customers no matter what time of day it is. George and his wife were hard workers from Switzerland and like Suzie’s in Willis St they bought sophisticated European food to Wellington and established our now legendary café scene.  Other European immigrants living in the city were very thankful for the tastes of home and locals were educated on a more varied diet.

Of course there were the usual suspects to be found in their pie warmer and toasted sandwich fillings. But rather than just the boring white bread sandwiches served in local milk bars George served  filled rolls with generous portions  of interesting European cured meats tucked in with fresh lettuce mayonnaise and sliced egg. For the time their food was considered to be the height of fine cafe cuisine.

Also popular were the crepes served with home stewed fruit and fresh cream. The Stucki’s were a hard working family. Each morning George his wife and two daughters would come to the café and work together preparing the food then eat breakfast together before the girls headed off to school.

I have a number of memories of the Matterhorn; I worked for the Stucki’s as a Friday night waitress and in the school holidays as the dish washer. George was a very particular man and meticulous in the kitchen, which was always spotlessly clean. I loved to sit around the back of their secret city garden and slurp on an iced chocolate on a hot summer’s afternoon, a great break from the busy hot kitchen sink. Or on a Friday night break, I would sit on one of those heavy wooden Swiss style adze chairs, under that massive BW photo of the Matterhorn. The moody lighting was a relaxing place for a break and to enjoy a really good toasted sandwich.

Leave a comment

Filed under The People

Dining in Cuba Street

Today Cuba Street is a foodie’s Mecca – wherever you look, on corners, up lanes and upstairs – there’s a place to eat. But the street’s reputation as a gourmet’s Nirvana isn’t new; it’s been a popular place to eat since the early days. In the early years Te Aro residents knew they would find a decent meal and fresh food in Cuba Street, in the 1800s oyster bars were plentiful “on Cuba”. They were dining rooms that sold oysters in the shell, raw, tinned, bottled, cooked, in soup, stewed, escalloped and fried.  Oysters were cheap and plentiful and they came from the Marlborough Sounds, brought by boat straight to the Wellington fishmongers’ market. In the early 1900s before refrigerators where invented the owners of one Cuba Street oyster saloon kept their stock of fresh oysters in sacks in the harbour near Thorndon. Every day the sacks would be barrowed up from the water and the still live oysters would be shucked and sold.

The Greek community initially ran the oyster bars and early newspaper stories report that oyster bar operators had to contend with drunken male customers in for a feed before heading home. The Greek community also later set up  milk bars and until the 1960s Cuba Street produced its share of milkshakes and white bread sandwiches.

22857465 milk bar Cuba-55

Milk Bar Cuba St ref ATL 22857465

Dinning out of an evening in post war Wellington was not something many Wellingtonians did, preferring to entertain at home. There was Hotel dinning when formal and special occasions were celebrated – dinner was in the dining room between 6pm and 7pm and if you were any later, sorry but you would miss out, the kitchen was closed. The Royal Oak Hotel, on the corner of Cuba and Manners streets, boasted a formal dining room with white starched napery and listed politicians among the diners.

Royal Oak Dinning room

Royal Oak Dining room ref ATL 22705474

Established in 1958 by Mr and Mrs Littlejohn and later owned by Phillip Temple, Orsini’s at 201 Cuba Street was one of the first fine dining restaurants in the city. French immigrant Madame Louise established her restaurant, Le Normandie, in Cubacade in1961. Drago Kovac later owned Le Normandie.

Initially the licensing laws did not allow wine to be served in these restaurants but bottles would find their way to the tables after being smuggled in under coats and between the papers of the local newspaper. By 1962 the law changed and wine lists in these establishments included mostly fine French Boudreaux wines. These restaurants offered diners a cosmopolitan experience; they could arrive later in the evening to dine in an environment that was much more pleasant than stuffy hotels, they could dance, The food offered was different in both of these establishments. Le Normandie offered flambé meats and desserts, French onion soup, and pate de foie gras all fine European dishes. Orsini’s offered, soups, fish and meat dishes and their desserts where more of a NZ origin such as Pavlova cake and fruit salads, a three course meal would cost between $7 and $10

22334021 Orsinis -58

Orsinis 1958 ref ATL 22334021

By the late 1950s the coffee culture began, coffee bars offered office workers something special at lunch and after work with friends. In the 1960s A Swiss German couple opened the Matterhorn coffee lounge in Cuba Street. The menu was sophisticated and Friday night shoppers made the Matterhorn a popular place for a Friday meal – mince on white toast was popular followed by a cona coffee or iced chocolate served with lashings of cream.

Ali Barbas Photo by Barry Thomas

Ali Baba’s ref Photo by Barry Thomas

In the 1980s Ali Babas was set up by the Turkish Kavas brothers they offered the new exciting fast food of kebabs. From  exotic food to weekly stable in twenty years.

Leave a comment

Filed under The People, The Settlement of Cuba St

Film of the Festival Walk and Talk

This is the film of the Cuba St Project walk and talk that I delivered for the Fringe Festival 2013. Commissioned by the Wellington City Council Heritage Dept and Produced by Mark Westerby of Random Films. The film is approx 11 min long the walk and talk was approx. 45 min long, so the stories are heavily edited. I think they’ve  done a great job of cutting it all together considering I talked none stop as we walked up the street. They filmed me just the once.  During the 3 week festival I did this free walk and talk 12 times and was joined by over 60 people, exhausting!


Filed under The People

Fish on Fridays, always available in Cuba St

We had fish for diner  last night which I bought at our local fish shop in Cuba St. This Catholic tradition  has been upheld by many European immigrant family’s.

Fishmongers have always had a presence in Cuba Street, this fish market  was on the waterfront  end of the street in the late 1800’s.

Fish market  late 1800's

Fish market late 1800’s

In 1891 one of the first Greek immigrants to the city, Peter Garbes, arrived from the island of Corfu and  opened a fish shop and Oyster saloon on the Oaks site at 63 Cuba St. Gallete Haralambos bought this shop in 1895 and sold  fresh fish caught around the Wellington region.  Crayfish, muttonbirds and rabbits were also sold intact with fur, feathers or carapace still attached.

Gallete used some truly memorable marketing techniques to promote his business.   Blocks of ice  were introduced to preserve food in the early 1900’s. Gallete used them in his window display attracting curious passer-by’s who had never seen ice used like this before.

Large whole fish were strung up in the shop window including a large, 20 foot shark with its huge, teeth encrusted jaw held wide open. One of his most popular attractions, especially for housewives with curious children in tow, was his tame penguin which he convinced to stay in the shops doorway by giving it regular feeds of spotties.

1940's . Huge bass caught in Cook strait

1940’s . Huge bass caught in Cook strait

In the 1930’s fishermen of Italian, Greek and Shetland Island origin,  most of whom lived and fished near Island Bay,  formed a co-operative . Their market was located around the corner in Dixon Street. This cooperative allowed the fishermen to wholesale and distribute their catches, mostly groper, bass, blue cod and lots of crayfish, to local restaurateurs and shops and to get a fair market price.

Tony Basile owner of Wellington Trawling and Sea Market

Tony Basile owner of Wellington Trawling and Sea Market

In 1947 the Meo family of Island Bay set up the fish factory in upper Cuba St. they distributed wholesale fresh and frozen fish, shellfish and smoked fish to local and international customers.  Bluff oysters would arrive in sacks and, in later years, would come shucked in 25 dozen tins. The factory had a large smoking area where fish was preserved.

Tony Basile was part of a group that bought this business in 1979 and soon took over the running of the whole opertion. Tony is a second generation Italian whose father Antonio and Uncle Mariano emigrated from Sorrento Italy in the 1920’s and worked as Island Bay fishermen.

Over the last 33 years the Wellington Trawling and Sea market has responded to changes in public taste and habits.  It’s smokehouse closed because its emissions became  unpopular in this built up area. The retail fish shop next to the fish factory in Cuba St  was opened in 2000. The fish prepared and sold by Wellington Trawling and Sea Market is caught by contract fishermen who sell their quota to Tony. Some have been supplying fish to this business for 10 to 20 years. This fish is still landed fresh at Wellington port.


Filed under The People

Tommy The Miniature Elephant

The Perry Brothers Circus offered new and amazing entertainment for the working class people of Te Aro during the depression in the 1920’s.

1929 Perry circus poster

1929 Perry circus poster  

Ref: Eph-E-CABOT-Circus-Perry-1928-02. Alexander Turnbull Library

This circus advertised as the greatest ring show on earth, held the Famous Five Lorenzo’s with their mid-air marvels, in pride of place.  Vaudeville acts and tight rope walkers entertained the adults and the travelling zoo was a huge draw card for the children.

Captain Wizard the wild animal trainer kept the animals in line with his whip.  Performing artists with fabulous names and entertainment options drew in the local crowds.  The Flying Dunbars, the Jingling Jumpers, Miss La La Selbinie  the  Contortionist, Mulldoon Ramp, Freddie  the Clown, the Henry Arco Troupe  with their balancing act, Miss Doreen  the trapeze artist, Alva Zalva the somersault artist  and Ridiculous Gordon, the cycling comedian  all entertained  the crowds.

When the circus arrived in town they would parade up the street with their miniature elephant on the back of the flatbed truck.  Captain Mozalo the ringmaster bought a tiger, a lion and a miniature elephant named Tommy all the way from Europe. Tommy performed the Charleston and Black bottom dances and played his own music.

1928 Perry circus elephant Tommy

1928 Perry circus elephant Tommy

Ref: 1/2-113980-F. Alexander Turnbull Library


I am inclined to think that poor  little Tommy was  a baby elephant. Thankfully today society no longer tolerates the incarceration and training of  wild animals as a form entertainment.



Leave a comment

Filed under The People

The Old Shebang an 1883 Bachelor Pad


The Old Shebang

The Old Shebang

Ref: 1/1-025894-G. Alexander Turnbull Library

The ‘Old Shebang’,  a working mans cottage located on upper Cuba St near Tonks Ave.  was tenanted in 1883 by three young gentlemen.

William Williams was a keen amateur photographer who has left us a number of interesting images of his life. Williams was adventurous and would go out into the surrounding hills and valleys of the Wellington region with his young friends, photographing the scenery with them in it.

Before his marriage his photographs appear to have been influenced by his friend Elsdon Best. Elsdon went on to write over twenty books and numerous papers about Maori and their way of life including Tuhoe; Children of the Mist. His papers and books written during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s are still studied in our universities today. 

Investigating Maori culture

Investigating Maori culture

Ref: 1/2-140204-G. Alexander Turnbull Library

These young men were very inquiring and experimental with their ideas. The image on the right showing a white man with a painting on moko and a blanket in imitation of the way local Maori dressed might be mis- interpreted in our time as being racist. But maybe the young men were attempting to understand the Maori world around them? Elsdon Best’s writing over his life time would make one suspect this scenario.


Ref: 1/2-140354-G. Alexander Turnbull Library

This small wooden unpainted cottage would have had a living room and kitchen downstairs with one bedroom upstairs. A number of similar cottages where built in Te Aro in the 1800’s. This included owner/occupied dwellings and others built by t wealthy land and business owners  living in the more salubrious Thorndon or Karori. These workers cottages were often rented to people who worked for the owners. Cuba St had everything within walking distance a hard working person could want; the greengrocer, butcher, stables and hotels, just like a modern urban community.

The 1883 bachelor’s bedroom doesn’t look a lot different to a young men’s flat today. This one bedroom workingman’s cottage at the top of Cuba St would have been a cheap rental for men establishing themselves in the small township.

1883 bachelor’s bedroom

1883 bachelor’s bedroom

Ref: 1/2-140322-G. Alexander Turnbull Library

Leave a comment

Filed under The People

Oyster Bar and Confectioners now Espressoholic

Espressoholic is located where there have always been eating houses. Records show that in 1905 there were two shops operating on the site, a confectioners and an oyster saloon.

In the early 1900’s, before refrigerators where invented, oysters were kept in sacks in the harbour near Thorndon. Every day the sacks would be barrowed up from the water and the still live oysters would be shucked to order for the customers.

In 1915 a Greek immigrant, Antonios Karantze, bought the oyster salon and renamed it The Karantze Brothers Restaurant. This family business survived for a number of generations changing its food focus from oyster bar to cafeteria and finally closed in the 1970’s.

Stories can be found in old newspapers of raucous behavior by the restaurants patrons and even some illegal activities of the business owners.

In 1920 Ippocrates Karantze was charged with buying and selling trout, which has always been illegal, and calling it a flounder. There are also numerous stories of drunk and disorderly customers fighting and smashing up the restaurant and not paying for their meals.

In 1901 it was common for the Greek owners of oyster saloons to bring their own countrymen in to work as non unionised labour. These workers were prepared to work 12 to 16 hours a day with little or no overtime and, because the saloons where often quite rough places open from 9am in the morning till as late as 4am, men were employed rather than woman. However, the wives and daughters of these Greek businessmen could to be found working the tills and managing staff.

Karantaz Bros family restaurant

Karantaz Bros family restaurant

image Wellington Hellenic Mile by Zisis Blades

Dorothy’s Cake Shop;

In the late 1800’s 136 Cuba St was already a confectioners shop and in 1927 it became a bakery.

In 1957 it became Dorothy’s Cake Shop, run by Henk and Mineke Rood and then their son Robert who renamed the business Dorothy’s Patisserie where, along with baked products, customers could buy handmade chocolates made with fine quality French chocolate.

In the 1990’s they extended the business and set up a number of French style booth tables and it became a favourite cafe for local workers to eat lunch. Wonderful lightly, baked French quiches were reasonably priced and a joy to eat.

The model figurine of a chef was a favourite with regular customers until the shop was remodelled into a cafe. The chef’s head would nod day in and day out. At Christmas the family would dress the chef as Father Christmas and fill the window and shelves with yummy festive season baking.

This popular family run cake shop closed in 2009 when the owners found the high rent made the business unviable.

Dorothys Cake Kitchen

Photo by Barry Thomas taken in 1991 for the 1992 Cuba St Calendar


1 Comment

Filed under The People