Inner-city breathing space

SARAH CATHERALL
Last updated 05:00 07/02/2013
Prefab
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ

THINKING BIG: Jeff Kennedy and partner Bridget Dunn in their new cafe, Prefab, in Jessie St, Wellington.

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L'Affare cafe founder Jeff Kennedy and his partner, Bridget Dunn, are excited about their new cafe venture opening today, writes Sarah Catherall.

More than two decades ago, Jeff Kennedy took a huge risk opening a cafe in the midst of the sharemarket crash, down a nondescript Wellington street lined with panelbeater workshops and other industry.

Cafe L'Affare in College St became one of our pioneering cafes, and the American-born restaurateur helped spark the capital's coffee revolution.

Tomorrow, Kennedy and his business and life partner, Bridget Dunn, will open another cafe a street and a bit away from Cafe L'Affare, which they sold to Japanese-owned Cerebos Gregg's in 2006 for about $25 million.

Their vision is bigger in both size and scale than Cafe L'Affare was. This time, their venture, Prefab, occupies a 700-square-metre space, which will operate as a cafe and a community space.

Last week when Life visited, the eatery was still in the pre-opening stages, but the couple talked about their vision.

The lane outside, linking Jessie and Vivian streets, would flourish as a green space, with ivy climbing the walls of the adjacent building, and customers and friends loitering on seats outside in the sunlight beneath the sheltering trees.

Anyone would be able to pop by to use the free wi-fi. It would be a public space without a council bureaucrat in sight.

"We wanted to have the ability to have a space in the inner city and we love this area, Te Aro," Kennedy says.

"This is why we live in Wellington. This place has sun, and it's not a high-rise area.

"Our dream was to have an area we could control socially and musically, with eating, art, beautiful weddings.

"If the drama school wants to put on a play, it could here.

"The lanes on either side of the buildings can be full of events. We are in an inner-city community, that's the dream and there's no other reason for being here."

An impressive entourage is joining the venture, some ex-L'Affare. Rob Wilkinson, former co-owner of Capitol, will lead the front-of-house team, while Jonathan England, of the legendary former Two Rooms restaurant in Miramar, will be head chef. Paddy Kennedy, a barista who worked at L'Affare before travelling overseas, will be head barista. Simon Mitchell, formerly a L'Affare chef some years ago, is baking the breads.

Prefab will roast its own coffee under the brand Acme, while baker Sarah Hailwood will be in the kitchen making pantry foods and jams. Freshly baked bread will be sold at the cafe and at Moore Wilson's. "We'll be taking hot bread across the road four times a day. We'll be baking during the day so the bread is beautiful and hot," Kennedy says.

Dunn was always the face of Cafe L'Affare, and the born and bred Wellingtonian is well connected to the city.

Serving fresh food straight from the kitchen, with no cabinet food, Prefab will offer bottomless, single-origin filter coffee and free sparkling water, while customers will be encouraged to linger.

"We'll have toasted sandwiches, lovely fresh products and fresh, seasonal salads," Dunn says.

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Kennedy adds that Prefab will make its own preservative-free tomato sauce, which he hopes customers will buy to take home, bringing in their own jars and filling them at the counter.

The couple have their own olive grove in Martinborough and their Acme olive oil will be served and for sale.

Dunn will initially supply herbs from her home herb garden, until herbs sprout in the garden in Jessie St.

The new venture is the latest in Kennedy's long entrepreneurial career that really got going in the 1970s when he set up Toad Hall on Plimmer Steps. He has also owned or part-owned film catering businesses Empire Food and Mt Cook Cafe, which he ran with cookery writer Lois Daish in the mid-1980s.

At Prefab, the 130-seater eatery space will be open daily for breakfast and lunch, closing at 4pm. It will open later on Friday evenings, serving its own Acme wines, at a flat price per bottle, and nibbles on the (hopefully) sundrenched deck.

The 130-seater eatery space is a collaboration between the couple and architects at Studio Pacific Architecture.

While the design is simple and functional, the furniture is made of aluminium and ash, designed by Kennedy and made in Nelson.

Kennedy also designed the ceiling fan, which is modelled on a Spitfire propeller and, he says, "a tribute to the brave young pilots who fought in the Battle of Britain. It could make me cry talking about that."

The couple are passionate Wellingtonians. "I wouldn't live anywhere else," Dunn says.

Having trained many a barista and waiting staff, they are equally excited about younger coffee barons setting up. Rather than seeing the Flight guys at The Hangar as competition, Dunn says: "There are some fantastic people coming through and that younger generation is coming up with new ideas."

Kennedy adds: "We're very lucky to be able to do this. It's exciting."

Prefab Eatery and Events 14 Jessie St, Te Aro Phone: 04 385 2263 pre-fab.co.nz 

- Wellington

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