Caffe L’affare was the talk of the town back in 2006 when it was sold to international food empire, Cerebos.
Seven years on, L’affare’s founder Jeff Kennedy and partner Bridget Dunn have launched a new venture just around the corner on Jessie Street. Prefab is an ‘all in one eatery, coffee roastery, community hub, events facility and showcase for New Zealand design.’
That Kennedy should engineer such a hybrid business is no surprise. Back in the 1980s he imported high-end hospitality equipment and tinkered with coffee roasters on the side. Establishing Caffe L’affare on its present site in College Street in 1990, he joined Geoff Marsland of Havana and Chris Dillon of Supreme in a vanguard of espresso and local roast. L’affare remains a Wellington institution to this day – a colourful, chaotic café serving consistently good food and coffee in a people-friendly place.
The new Kennedy–Dunn enterprise is located in the middle building of three in their ownership. Although fairly low-key from the outside it has been extensively renovated – pared back to its substructure and vented with vast windows which let in floods of natural light. There’s alfresco seating on a sun-soaked terrace.
The interior is industrial–minimalist, ruled with girders and ducting, paved with polished concrete and hung with factory lampshades and a striking ceiling fan shaped like a spitfire propeller. Clinical bathrooms are tiled white. Plain tables and chairs are manufactured in Nelson to Jeff’s own modish design, just one line in his Acme & Co. product range that includes crockery, spoons, and even bratwurst-style sausages available from Moore Wilson. The coffee beans are also Acme brand, small-batch roasted for in-house espresso and filter ($3.50 for a bottomless cup) or to take home cash and carry.
Stretching from one side of the room t’other is purportedly the southern hemisphere’s longest espresso bar, behind which a crew in kitchen whites hustles in their shiny, stainless steel kitchen. Prefab’s fabricators have achieved their aim of ‘simple and functional,’ but this no-frills fit-out won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. Nor, perhaps, will the fact that – bar a couple of morsels – counter food has been abandoned entirely in favour of a la carte and table service. Personally, I’m quite happy to sit around on my arts in a styley environment while snappy waitstaff deliver me fine repast.
Gluten intolerants might like to place a peg on their nose, because the aroma of Prefab’s house-made bread is irresistible. Emerging from the oven all day long (and also available from Moore Wilson), this staple is the hero of a precisely honed menu of crowd pleasers. Popular breakfast dishes and simple sandwiches fill the gap before 11am when the lunchy fare comes along: pizza, burgers, pan-fried fish and five varied salads including the noble Caesar.
And so begins a new chapter in the story of Wellington’s coffee business. ‘We were never going to do another L’affare,’ says Bridget Dunn. ‘That was our first baby, and we loved it. But we decided to do something completely different. We were always going to. It’s in our DNA. There’s nothing better than looking after and feeding people. It’s what we love to do and we’re very lucky to be doing it.’