Berhampore has always been one of Wellington’s more low-profile suburbs; an area people drive through on their way from Newtown to Island Bay’s coast. Nicola Young writes about the latest up and coming new businesses popping up in town.
The suburb’s name has fascinating origins: in 1757, the British East India Company (the world’s first multinational) won a decisive battle against the Nawab of Bengal at Berhampore (about 150km north of Calcutta). The victory is considered pivotal in establishing British colonial rule in South Asia and the East India Company’s century-long domination of Indian trade. (It’s hardly surprising that, when the English language acquired Indian words, one was ‘loot’).
George Hunter, the first mayor of the Wellington Borough (1842-43, before we attained city status), had close connections to Berhampore, where his English father-in-law had served in the Army. Wellington’s smattering of Indian place names (Khandallah!) can be traced back to Hunter, although it’s been said Indian names in Wellington are as relevant as Maori place names would be in India.
Hunter was also, inadvertently, responsible for New Zealand’s Eight-Hour Day. While sailing to New Zealand in 1840, Hunter asked a fellow migrant to build him a store in Lambton Quay; the carpenter – Samuel Parnell – agreed, providing he only worked an eight-hour day. It was an international first, although not recognised by statute until 1857.
Now Berhampore has become the ‘new’ Newtown; with its charming houses (many of them ripe for renovation), and its small commercial centre attracting some interesting businesses.
Chocolatier Jo Coffey opened L’Affaire au Chocolat four years ago, moving her boutique chocolate kitchen out of her home. “I knew Berhampore was the on the rise,
and then had the opportunity to buy the shop”.
Jo rates her hot chocolate as the best in Wellington, but it’s her hand-made, soft-centred chocolates that attract customers from as far away as Eastbourne and the Kapiti Coast. “New Zealanders are becoming very knowledgeable about chocolate, and their tastes are maturing. My chocolates are very grown up, not candy; the best selling flavours are caramel and raspberry.”
Baker Gramercy is almost next-door; a specialist bread shop that opened a few weeks ago. Its owner, Wellington College old-boy James Whyte, worked as a commercial property broker, then – wanting a change of direction – trained as a chef in New York before returning to his home town.
“Berhampore was a forgotten suburb; under-appreciated and lacking identity. It wasn’t really on my list when I was looking for premises, but I soon realised the area’s attractions: only five minutes from the CBD, where commercial rental prices are four times higher; it’s got a real sense of community; and I found premises with an established catering kitchen.”
James is focusing on a narrow range of breads (baguettes, ciabatta and sourdough); using traditional techniques many have abandoned; his sourdough bread ferments for up to two days, allowing the flavours time to develop. “I can only produce small batches, as it’s all made by hand, although I’m hoping to expand into pastries – simple ones! – shortly.”
James makes a maximum of 200 loaves, and it’s usually sold out by 1pm. “It’s good to make a product that’s being so well-received. The ingredients are high-cost and quality, although I’m determined to keep the prices accessible, in line with the prices of breads made by much bigger bakeries.
“I want to develop my business the same way as I make my bread: slowly and deliberately.”
Across the road, Goose Shack HQ opened a few days after Baker Gramercy, having evolved from a food truck business serving barbequed meats, fish and sandwiches at the City Market. Goose Shack HQ caters for local Berhampore families wanting good quality, simple food – most of it cooked on a wood-fired oven. Owner, Haydn Turner, has worked in the hospitality industry for years, including a stint on the floor at the River Café (one of London’s trail-blazing restaurants, and Jamie Oliver’s training ground).
Rimsky-Korsakov is a cafe run by Rosie Smyth – a displaced Lyttleton-ite, who wanted to recreate the sense of community she missed when she moved to Wellington. Unusually, Rimsky-Korsakov holds ‘pot luck’ dinners when locals bring their own food to the café to eat while listening to live bands. Rosy is delighted locals have embraced her café as a community hub; she wants to set up a mums’ group and, further down the track, start life drawing classes.
Berhampore’s renaissance mirrors what’s happening in Britain, where artisan foodie shops are resuscitating moribund high streets. Let’s hope Berhampore is trail-blazing, and other suburbs will follow.