Much-loved cafe is back

Last updated 05:00 01/04/2014
DONE:The finished cafe shows few signs of the serious structural work done to make it safe.
Black Betty
CHUFFED: Black Betty owner Hamish Evans.

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A landlord investing $400,000 from his own pocket to keep an old building open is a rarity in post-earthquake Christchurch.

Mike Peers has done just that. The result is the reopening of a new and improved Black Betty cafe in Madras St.

Peers, an importer by trade, has been in the property game for about 20 years.

He has owned the Black Betty building and its Madras St neighbours for about 14 years.

It was vacant when Peers bought it, but not for long.

Before Betty came along, the warehouse was home to an opshop and a bookshop/cafe.

However, it was not until Hamish Evans got his hands on it that the building really came into its own.

Three weeks before the February 2011 earthquake, Evans, who also owns Switch Espresso and Industrie, opened Black Betty. It was shut down for seven weeks after the quake.

At the time, Evans had no business interruption insurance.

Temporary strengthening meant the cafe could reopen until a permanent plan of action was decided.

"We were one of the few cafes open at the time," Evans said. "We became a bit of a hub for people."

Over the next year, Black Betty went from strength to strength, and eventually moved its roastery out of the cafe to create more seating space.

However, by mid-2012 insurers had washed their hands of the building, deciding repair was not financially viable.

For Evans, the offer of a new building in its place was heartbreaking.

"This place is pretty amazing and it's worth saving," he said.

Other landlords might have taken the easy and less expensive option, demolishing the warehouse and replacing it with a cost-effective tilt-slab building.

Luckily for Evans, Peers was no such landlord.

"We wouldn't have done this for everyone," Peers said. "It's Hamish's passion and business expertise really, and we felt compelled to support that."

Plans were finalised in August last year and construction started in December.

Initially, Evans had "ambitiously" predicted the work would take about two months. Last week, 111 days later, Black Betty reopened for the second time.

The $400,000 bill included significant strengthening with reinforced concrete pillars and steel beams built into the building's existing frame. On top of that, Evans completed a refurbishment of the interior, creating more seating space and a better layout.

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"Basically, we built a new building within the frame of an old building," Peers said.

Evans has since signed a much longer lease at a higher rent.

"To be honest, I couldn't sign fast enough," he said.

Peers said he had not regretted his investment for a moment.

"There's very few places like this anymore, especially in Christchurch. Sitting here today, we've got through the risk and we haven't lost our shirts," he said.

- The Press


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