Owen Hembry

Owen Hembry is the business news editor of the New Zealand Herald

Christchurch earthquake: Cafes and bars face knock out blow

Restaurant Association president Michael Turner (pictured in September) says few CBD hospitality businesses are able to operate. Photo / Greg Bowker
Restaurant Association president Michael Turner (pictured in September) says few CBD hospitality businesses are able to operate. Photo / Greg Bowker

Pete Davies, co-owner of Christchurch's Underground Coffee, reckons about 40 per cent of the inner city cafes his company supplies with roasted coffee were wiped out in Tuesday's earthquake.

The Underground cafe in central Christchurch was badly damaged in the September quake, and the company had just begun rebuilding that site last week.

"It's just gut-wrenching," Davies said, adding that he had not been able to check how the cafe had stood up to the latest quake as it was within the cordoned off CBD.

"[The earthquake is] going to have a big effect on us."

He said his firm fortunately had business interruption insurance.

He was in the Globe Cafe on High St when the earthquake struck.

After being thrown to the floor, he scrambled to his feet and ran outside.

"You didn't know where you were because the dust was that thick," Davies said.

"I tried to make calls - as everyone did - and then managed to get back in my vehicle. A lot of them around the area were crushed, but mine was all right."

He drove back to Underground Coffee's roastery in Sydenham, on the fringe of the CBD, and found his staff members upset and frightened by the quake but unhurt.

The building was still standing, though affected by liquefaction and showing cracks.

Davies did not know whether the facility would pass an engineer's report.

Tuesday's earthquake was "a different beast altogether" to the one that struck the city last September.

Coffee firms located in other parts of New Zealand were roasting beans on Underground's behalf - to supply its Canterbury customers that were still operating as well as those based outside the region - while its Sydenham roastery was closed.

Michael Turner was heading to his city centre restaurant, Cafe Valentino, when the quake struck.

"As I tried to make my way into work there were huge numbers of people leaving, vacating town, running across Hagley Park with their work briefcases ... and every building was damaged," Turner said.

He had not yet been able to examine his premises in detail, but all his staff and customers had escaped unhurt.

"The building stood up pretty well last time and this time, but there's enough damage for it to be fatal to the building," Turner said.

Finding survivors in the city had to take first priority, then there would be a time to assess the damage.

Turner, the president of the Canterbury branch of the Restaurant Association, had not yet seen how other hospitality operators had fared.

"I would suggest that probably virtually none are open because the city has no water and has no sewerage."

In coastal New Brighton, Hamish Evans was at home sick when the quake struck.

"It was really vicious," said Evans, who owns New Brighton's Switch Espresso coffee roastery and cafe.

"I was going to run outside but I got to the doorway and just held on, I couldn't run ... it was that violent."

After the shaking subsided he went straight to his cafe.

"People were in hysterics, staff were crying, everyone was outside."

Switch came through last year's earthquake unscathed and quickly reopened, serving coffee made from water that was boiled in vats before being put into the espresso machine, as a hygiene precaution.

Business boomed as victims of the September quake sought solace in a cup of hot coffee.

Luck was on Evans' side again this week.

"We've had hardly any damage," he said, adding that the cafe - called Black Betty - which he opened in the central city just two weeks before Tuesday's quake had also come through intact.

Evans said he hoped Switch would reopen by the weekend. "Our Brighton store - as soon as we get the power on - will be really busy."

- NZ Herald

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