St Asaph Kitchen's restaurateur calls time on dream

New era: James Jameson, who formerly owned Le Cafe, is closing St Asaph St Kitchen for the last time tonight.
Kirk Hargreaves/Fairfax NZ

New era: James Jameson, who formerly owned Le Cafe, is closing St Asaph St Kitchen for the last time tonight.

High-profile Christchurch restaurateur James Jameson dedicated himself "to the rebuild dream" but the reality came too slowly to save his business.

Two years and three months after opening St Asaph St Kitchen & Stray Dog Bar, he has admitted defeat.

Jameson, who once owned the popular Le Cafe in the Arts Centre, will close the bar for the last time tonight. The project was "ahead of its time", he said.

"I bought into the rebuild dream that it would be wonderful in three years. I imagined, by now, the city would be back. No.

"I think I was a bit early. In a couple of years this place will be jumping. Somebody else will make it their dream. My little part in it is done."

The 68-year-old was one of the first to open a hospitality venture on St Asaph St, near the corner of Manchester St.

He poured his energy - and money - into converting an automotive workshop into a restaurant, cafe and bar.

"I felt like Christchurch needed a little bit of Melbourne," he said.

"When it opened, there was nothing else around.

"We were really busy for about the first year."

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At that time, the number of cafes, restaurants and bars open in the city was half the pre-earthquake level. Open establishments thrived.

Jameson thought things would only get better. He welcomed competition, like Cafe Valentino, Baretta and Engineers opening nearby.

"I thought, at last there is a reason to come into town."

Then the honeymoon ended. Roadworks cut off access and kept punters away. Recruiting top chefs was tough. The rebuild pace was slow. Business floundered.

Hospitality Association Canterbury president Peter Morrison said competition in the Christchurch hospitality scene had "normalised" as more places opened. Costs had increased and there was only so much customer dollar to go around, another restaurateur said.

Jameson said closing St Asaph St Kitchen was emotional. He was touched by the support of regulars upset to see him go.

"It's been brutally hard to deal with that," he said.

"I don't mind saying I'm a rotten businessman. It's the nature of change and changes of fortune."

He believed in the St Asaph St area but said it would take another 12 to 18 months for nearby offices and High St to be rebuilt.

Having "lost it all" in the quake - his Victoria Apartments flat, his Scarborough Hill home, Le Cafe and his latest project - had taught Jameson to let go of possessions and ego.

He will leave the hospitality industry and spend the next two months meditating in northern Thailand. He flies out on Friday, February 13.

"I'm going to turn that into a good luck day," he said.

 - The Press

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