Wayne Thompson is a NZ Herald reporter.

Troubled Piha cafe passes into new hands

The cafe earned resource consents after a three-year, $200,000 legal wrangle. Photo / Supplied
The cafe earned resource consents after a three-year, $200,000 legal wrangle. Photo / Supplied

The Piha Cafe's founders have thrown in the tea towel on the eve of winning some relief from strict conditions imposed by the Environment Court.

After pouring "huge money" into starting the cafe in October 2009, they have sold the lease to a tourism entrepreneur from the Caribbean who sees it as a centre of the community and source of donations to its causes.

Surfing mates Andrew Higgs, David Bensley, Chris Fougere and Richard Hatton ran up against conservative residents when they decided to start the only cafe at the west coast beach. Helped early on by Marc Ellis, a television presenter and former All Black, they won resource consents after a three-year, $200,000 legal wrangle.

The consents proved onerous: a ceiling of 35 seated patrons at any time and a ban on consuming alcohol.

Just over a week ago, an Auckland Council planning commissioner deleted the at-all-times liquor ban.

Mr Bensley said the deal with Pete and Pattie Dillon meant the partners could focus on their day jobs while keeping ownership of the site.

"We have young families and a hospitality business is challenging and needs time. We are not running away or flicking it over. It has not become a McDonald's restaurant. We have done what we said and kept our integrity."

Mr Bensley said it had made the Metro Top 50 Cafes list but was no goldmine.

Auckland Council said on Thursday the cafe could now seek a liquor licence, open to public objection. It noted the cafe's intention was a service expected by most customers.

Mr Dillon said he was experienced in working with communities through the organic farming movement on the Caribbean island of St Lucia.

"We see the cafe as more of a community centre and will listen to what the community wants. We are not looking to make money out of it; all profits will return to the community fund to support local initiatives."

He said changes to consent conditions allowed a $150,000 rebuilding and repaving project to get under way, using local contractors.

Protect Piha Heritage Society treasurer Peter Hosking said the society would object to a licence.

"We were always concerned about the creep effect. First, it was going to be a little community cafe, now the next step is liquor with food. Then it will be increased hours and eventually it will end up being a bar."

- NZ Herald

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