Monday, July 30, 2012

Suzy's a Coffee House History rrp $35.00

A fascinating history of Suzy van der Kwast's 'odyssey' from Holland to Wellington to establish her famous and sophisticated coffee bar in Wellington in the 60s.

Tonite we interview Susette Goldsmith and Suzy Van Der Kwast -'Queen of the Wellington Coffee Bar'.

My Homework on Suzy

Suzy's coffee bar was one of the many institutions run by Dutch people that was instrumental in developing New Zealanders' appreciation of good coffee and café society. Run by Suzy van der Kwast, Suzy's was a Wellington landmark for twenty-three years.

Suzy was one of thirteen children, and grew up on a farm in the Netherlands. She helped sell produce in her father's shop, and when applying to migrate here, told the authorities that she would like to work where she could serve people. Suzy came here as an assisted immigrant. She arrived in 1960, and followed her two brothers to Invercargill.

Suzy became a waitress in Invercargill's Bamboo Restaurant, but she soon grew impatient to work where there was more of a city life. Coming  from a small village in the Netherlands, Suzy had been impressed with Wellington, although immigrants from larger cosmopolitan centres thought Wellington left a lot to be desired.

When she settled in Wellington, Suzy was amazed at how few cafés there were to serve the large population. Where did people meet? After a spell waitressing at the Parisienne, Suzy, and her boyfriend, found an empty motorbike shop in Wakefield Street where they could open their own café. They used all their savings and worked day and night for six weeks to open The Windmill. It was a great success and opened from 6 am to midnight each day. The Windmill sold a wider range of food than many Kiwis were used to including salads, croquettes, frankfurters, and Dutch cakes as well as good coffee. 
After two years, Suzy split up with her boyfriend and they sold the business. Suzy now had enough money to buy her heart's desire - a house in Spain with a café attached. But she had met Tom, her husband- to-be. Tom persuaded Suzy to wait, and promised that after a year he would go with her to Spain. But during that year, premises became available in Willis Street, and Suzy's was born.

The new café was long and narrow and had a mezzanine upper floor. The interior, designed by Austrian architect Fritz Eisenhofer, was stylish and dark, with small windows and lots of tables. The food on offer was different from most food available in Wellington at the time. There was a salad bar where customers could serve themselves, as well as delicacies such as crayfish rolls. Suzy's attracted a wide variety of Wellingtonians including office workers, students, politicians, businessmen, and local characters, while cleaners and taxi-drivers often showed up in the evenings.

Many New Zealanders now remember Suzy's with great fondness. Suzy and Tom had intended to run the café for three years only, but they never moved on, feeling more and more like New Zealanders as the years went by. 
In 1986, Suzy's was demolished and the thirty-storey Majestic Tower Development took its place. Suzy had few regrets about the demise of Suzy's, as she believed the café was starting to become old and tired, and the long hours were beginning to take their toll. Suzy remained in the food business after Suzy's closed. In 1990, she opened a Thai Restaurant in Cambridge Terrace, and then opened Café de Circus on the corner of Cuba and Vivian Streets. This led the way for the regeneration of one of the more run-down parts of the inner city. 
Today, Suzy has relinquished the direct running of a food business in New Zealand but she retains a keen interest in the city's restaurant and café developments. She and Tom own a traditional home, with a teahouse at the front, in her father's home town in the Netherlands. Suzy and Tom visit it annually.


  1. How wonderful to read and see the photo's of Suzy's. My Mum would take me as a wee 5 year old to Suzy's and I remember the smell of frankfurters as you walked in the door. We often sat at the corner table next to the kitchen door. Always so busy, loved going there. And so lovely to read the history - now as a 53 year old - it brings back good memories.

  2. I remember seing this book for sale at Whitcoulls a few years ago and meant to buy it then but not long after they didn't have it in stock so missed out getting it. Suzy's was one of the first cafes I went to in 1971 when I came down to Wellington to go flatting.