Matterhorn's founder steps forward as closure looms
Mary Tresch remembers opening Wellington's Matterhorn.
She remembers sewing the uniforms and washing the shawls. She remembers the doctor who would walk up from Lambton Quay daily, and most-importantly, she remembers that she and her husband opened the business as a Cuba St cafe in 1963.
So the Swiss immigrant was a little startled to discover on Wednesday morning that a pair of Swiss brothers had apparently opened what would become one of New Zealand's most-defining venues.
It was announced this week that the cafe-turned-bar-turned-restaurant was closing down, and current owners believed the building would be demolished.
Tresch, these days nearing 90 and living in a Johnsonville retirement home, has old newspaper clippings showing it was her and her husband, Tony Tresch, who opened Matterhorn in 1963.
The belief that it was two Swiss brothers – as opposed to a husband and wife – came from a Matterhorn statement sent out this week.
Photos from the cafe's early days show a different place to the bar-turned-high-end restaurant that has become Wellington's go-to venue.
Designed by Erwin Winkler and Friedrich Eisenhofer in 1963, the cafe was busy from day-one and was known for its quick service and continental cakes, she said.
There were nods to Switzerland everywhere you looked – both in its early days, then to a lesser extent when it became a bar in 1997.
There were the red, blue, and white uniforms Tresch sewed for the waitresses. Each wore a shawl sent over from her sister-in-law in Switzerland.
There was a Swiss flag and a famous large print of the restaurant's namesake mountain back home.
There was the fireplace – albeit fake – reminiscent of a Swiss chalet.
There were the famous visitors. Prime Minister Keith Holyoake's wife came in one day, as did – reportedly – jazz great Louis Armstrong, though she had no recollection of the jazz man.
After 10 years of getting up at 6am and finishing at 6.30pm, the Treschs decided to call it quits and sold Matterhorn.
She returned every five years. Her most recent visit was two years ago, to a drastically changed Matterhorn. Tresch decided that visit would be her last.
Still, she was sad to hear it was going. "It is history isn't it – history gone."
Current owner Sean Marshall was blown away by the revelation, and invited Tresch and her family to dinner for a wander down memory lane of their shared story.
"Wow, if I think this is tough for me, it must have been even harder for Mary, and doesn't Wellington owe her a massive debt of gratitude. She pioneered the coffee scene in Wellington, something we pride ourselves on these days.
"It was totally a new concept in the 60s to go out for a cup of coffee. The least I can do is invite her and her family in for dinner on us."
He wanted the next three months to be about people sharing their special memories of the place.
On the day it was announced that the restaurant would be closing, Marshall placed an ad on Trade Me seeking investors for Matterhorn. "We've had a huge amount of interest today which is promising."
In response to the historical error Marshall said: "The history of Matterhorn has been passed on orally from one owner to the next and the story I was told was that two brothers opened the place. One sadly passed away, at which point the other brother moved back to Switzerland. The Matterhorn was then sold to another Swiss family.
"I would absolutely love to meet Mary and thank her in person for bringing Matterhorn to us."