Regulars mourn the loss of Kenny's Cafe

For 28 years, Kenny's Cafe in Courtenay Place was a bastion of cheap meals that must have given heart surgeons palpitations.
For 28 years, Kenny's Cafe in Courtenay Place was a bastion of cheap meals that must have given heart surgeons palpitations.

A piece of central Wellington's "culinary history" has switched off its deep fryers and pulled the plug on its neon lights after almost 30 years in business.

For 28 years, Kenny's Cafe in Courtenay Place was a bastion of cheap meals that must have given heart surgeons palpitations.

The regular haunt for central city bar-hoppers looking for something to soak up the alcohol after a night on the town closed its doors in December.

Its windows are now covered in newsprint and the neon Kenny's sign lies dormant above its purple walls and white window and door frames.

Its closure was greeted with sadness by patrons and other business owners. Civil servant John Welch, a fan of its pork chops, was devastated. "Far out, I'm gutted. That's ruined my month," he said when told of the news.

He had been planning a visit to Kenny's this weekend and blamed himself for the closure. "It's all because we started to go healthy."

Restaurant Association president and Monsoon Poon owner Mike Egan paid tribute to a piece of Wellington's "culinary history".

"Where am I going to eat late at night? I loved going there. The schnitzel and coleslaw at 2am was bloody fantastic." Kenny's is to reopen in about two months as a pizzeria, co-owned by former All White Raf de Gregorio.

Mr Egan said the change was symptomatic of the changing nature of Courtenay Place, which over the years had seen several fast-food joints close.

Kenny's was also a favourite haven of the city's cab drivers.

It featured in New Zealand movie Stickmen, in which the characters sit in the back seat of a taxi parked outside the cafe, give directions and begin to talk among themselves before realising the driver is inside having a meal.

Dennis, a cab driver of more than 20 years, said the cafe was a place to unwind after a long shift behind the wheel.

"It was just a place to relax and there were some good friendships formed, even with the staff. "It didn't matter what cab company you were from; when you got to Kenny's all those sort of walls came down and you all chewed the fat over how your night went and `I got a bigger take than you'."

Staff knew their customers' orders and even bought them Christmas presents. They also used to do quizzes in each day's Dominion Post, he said.

Mr de Gregorio and Cubita Cafe owner John David are planning to open the pizzeria after extensive renovations are completed.

Mr David said contractors helping with renovations had also expressed their sorrow at seeing Kenny's close, but change was the nature of business.

"It's really sad, because I don't know anybody who hasn't been to Kenny's at some stage in their life."

The Dominion Post