Eli Orzessek is Travel's Digital Content Producer.

Family food: Father-daughter team at heart of Ponsonby mainstay

Family food When a family run a restaurant, there are always stories to tell. Eli Orzessek listens to some tales.
Chris Rupe says he thinks of SPQR as a living being. Photo / Babiche Martens
Chris Rupe says he thinks of SPQR as a living being. Photo / Babiche Martens

It may have a slightly more recent history than other restaurants, but family connections run deep at Ponsonby Rd's SPQR.

Originally opened as a bar in 1991, the establishment has grown to have a greater focus on food over the years.

Since 1998, co-owner Chris Rupe has run SPQR with business partner Paula Macks. His 26-year-old daughter Courtney also works at the establishment as a manager.

"I had split up with her mother when she was 4 years old, so ... I would've liked to have her closer to me," he says.

"An opportunity arose where she was able to come here and work as a waitress. She's moved up now and she's one of the managers."

Serving mainly Italian cuisine, the restaurant and its iconic outdoor seating - white tablecloths and black chairs - are truly part of the landscape of the area.

"It's a part of Ponsonby really, which we're very ... humble about."

The father-daughter duo are also set to open a separate venture with "European flair" on Fort St next year. "It's something for Courtney," he says.

Another family connection comes from Mr Rupe's famous auntie Carmen - the late transgender icon whose threats to release the names of MPs who visited her Wellington brothel helped effect the passing of the Homosexual Law Reform bill.

As an occasional visitor to SPQR, Mr Rupe remembers her as "a hard case, that one".

SPQR has always had a reputation of being not quite a gay bar, but pretty close. "Back in those days I guess everyone was coming out," he says. "This was a place that they wanted to celebrate that."

While he denies SPQR, with its iconic outdoor seating area, exists as "a place to be seen" these days - "Everyone's welcome, all shades, all ages" - Mr Rupe says he's grateful for its many loyal patrons.

"We've had a lot of loyalty for which we're very grateful, for our loyals and regulars."

With many long-serving staff members and customers, SPQR is a bit like a family gathering in itself. Its name translates to "The Senate and People of Rome" - a place for the people to come together.

"It's a funny thing SPQR," he says. "I actually call her a female, I call her 'her' and treat her as a living being and such. Sometimes we chat."

- NZ Herald

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