A landmark Whanganui building is being transformed into a Japanese restaurant and cafe.

Bizen and Tomoko Miyake are moving their Victoria Ave restaurant to the former Big Orange and Ceramic Lounge premises in the old Post and Telegraph Office building on the Victoria Ave-Ridgway St corner.

The Miyakes set up Momiji in the Bridge Block two years ago, taking over the site previously occupied by another legendary Whanganui cafe, Cracked Pepper.

"It's a little bit small where we are at the moment," Bizen Miyake said.

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"We don't have enough space at lunch and dinner and there's a more commercial set-up in the new kitchen."

The business will be renamed Momiji Japanese Restaurant and Cafe, with a small cafe operating in the front of the premises and the restaurant in the former Ceramic Lounge area.

Miyake, who has been a chef for 18 years, employs about 10 staff and is recruiting for a part-time baker for the cafe part of the business. Most of the staff are Japanese and the Miyakes aim to provide traditional Japanese hospitality.

"We are from Kyoto in Japan," Miyake said.

"Eighteen years ago we lived in Auckland for about two years and then we went back to Japan and opened our own restaurant. In Kyoto there were a lot of tourists who liked Japanese food."

However, after about eight years they decided they had had enough of the busy city life and wanted to move back to New Zealand.

"We came back to Auckland but it had changed so much and was very busy so we travelled to find somewhere else to live," Miyake said.

"We liked Whanganui with the river and ocean, and it only takes 15 minutes to get anywhere."

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The restaurant serves traditional Japanese food and some ingredients are imported from Japan to ensure the flavours are authentic.

Bizen Miyake will open Momiji Japanese Restaurant and Cafe in its new premises on July 31.
Bizen Miyake will open Momiji Japanese Restaurant and Cafe in its new premises on July 31.

The new venture will introduce Kirin beer on tap, a rarity in New Zealand where another Japanese beer is more common. There will also be rice wine, sake, plum wine and New Zealand wines.

Miyake plans to develop the menu in time and is talking to suppliers about fresh fish for sashimi.

"I'm really happy if customers eat my food and they feel happy as well," Miyake said.

"I try to make good food and make people happy."

Momiji is scheduled to open in its new premises on Tuesday, July 31.


Heritage building

The Post and Telegraph Office building is listed in the Whanganui Heritage Inventory as a Class B building, meaning it is of local or regional significance.

It was designed by John Campbell, the government architect, and built by Nicholas Meuli. The building was opened in October 1902 by Acting Premier and postmaster general Sir Joseph Ward. It originally had a domed clock tower on the corner above the main entrance. The tower and the pediments were dismantled in August 1931 after the Napier earthquake.

The building housed all postal and telegraph services as well as the telephone exchange and the Post Office savings bank.