Filtering the best out of coffees

Jeff Kennedy and Bridget Dunn inside their new Pre-Fab in Jessie St.
Jeff Kennedy and Bridget Dunn inside their new Pre-Fab in Jessie St.

A founding father of Wellington's coffee industry is returning to stir up the competition by opening a lavish new cafe - half a street away from the business he sold for $25 million.

Jeff Kennedy was the founding father of Caffe L'Affare in College St, which he sold to international giant Cerebos five years ago.

Now he's back with a 700 square metre venture, Pre-Fab, which he describes as a cafe-cum-community space, located just a few hundred metres away in Jessie St.

The new business, started with partner Bridget Dunn, builds on the linger-longer, kid-friendly atmosphere fostered at L'Affare.

The lane running alongside Pre- Fab linking Jessie and Vivian Streets will be transformed in to a greenspace with ivy climbing the walls of the adjacent building he also owns, a basketball hoop for locals and plenty of trees.

The idea, Kennedy said, was to create an "inner-city enclave which is not all about money, it's more of a nuclear thing" where people could walk through, get something to eat, have a glass of water, use the free wi-fi and not necessarily have to buy anything. "This is trying to bring some organic life in to an area."

A third of the building is a community space called Great Hall with lighting and sound systems wired throughout. In it, art will be exhibited, plays performed (Kennedy said playwright Tom Scott had written a new show he wanted performed there), opera and classical music played and children's activities such as readings would take place. He hoped it would be a space where dinner events, AGMs and weddings would be held, catered by Pre-Fab's kitchen with its own wine label.

After many cafes over the years from Toad Hall to The Mount Cook Cafe, Empire Foods and L'Affare, he had created his ultimate establishment. "This is it for me," said Kennedy (although he said the same about Caffe L'Affare in 1992).

Pre-Fab will sell coffee branded as Acme, cheekily named after the mail order anvils and explosives brand from The Road Runner TV cartoon, using beans imported from Brazil, Costa Rica and Ethiopia, roasted in-house.

The cafe includes what Kennedy believes is the longest espresso bar in the southern hemisphere.

Kennedy and Dunn designed the cafe's chairs and tables, made from New Zealand aluminium and ash. "Every detail," Kennedy said. "Every rivet, every light."

The ceiling fan was modelled after Spitfire propellers and "dedicated to the brave young men who fought in the Battle of Britain. And it's not a piss-take either. The Spitfire is a beautiful shape, the wings and the sound it makes are beautiful - as a piece of design work it is almost perfect".

After more than a year of planning and a $2 million fit-out, Pre- Fab is due to open on February 7.

It will serve "very healthy food" including Acme-branded breads baked in-house throughout the day in its open plan kitchen where diners can see food being prepared. There will be no cabinet food, with everything made fresh to order.

Kennedy was coy about how much a flat white would be. Under $4? "It will be a lot less than anyone. You probably know I started L'Affare . . . but we don't intend to sell coffee at those prices."

And in a move likely to raise eyebrows in espresso-soaked Wellington, Pre-Fab will serve bottomless filter coffee for about $3.50.

Like an American diner? "Yeah, but good. It won't be weak."

The filter coffee machine is a handcrafted Technivorm Clubline from Holland and the main espresso machine is a Bauhaus TLV from Israel, worth about $10,000. He did not think much of the uber- trendy glass Chemex filtered coffee sold in many Wellington cafes these days.

"It's something that's developed through a kind of geek element in the industry where they're buying really expensive rare beans but still roasting it dark and it's still bloody awful in my opinion. I hope to roast much lighter for the filter and show it all up, because it's ridiculous."

Contact Jazial Crossley
Wellington business reporter
Twitter: @msbananapeel

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