Cityscape caught up with Hello Sunday’s Chris Penny to talk about their impressive stack of Chevrons, life in hospitality, and what we can expect from their new venture 5th Street.
Photography: Sam Caves
Congratulations on taking out Café of the Year and People’s Choice Café of the Year at last month’s Hospitality Awards! How many is that now, and how does it feel having that sort of support?
That’s three years in a row, for both. It’s kind of a humbling feeling; with hospitality you are putting yourself out there to be measured by your peers and by the public. People always have an opinion on the industry, and they are not afraid to vocalise it. You need to be quite comfortable in what you do because of that and just believe in what you’re offering. When you get an award like this it’s nice to find out that people feel the same way about your café as you do, because we basically just pour love into this place. What we do is authentic – there’s no faking this, it’s not a formula to us; it’s very much based on emotions and wanting the place to feel a certain way, to put creative food and drinks in front of people, give heartfelt service and really care. So it’s really nice to hear from both the industry and from the public that they acknowledge that. I’m somewhat just the face of a core group of people that make this whole thing happen; I have the backing and support of my business partners Jonathan [Spark] and Yasmeen [Clark], and my boy Samson [Stewart] – he and I have run Hello Sunday from day one together. The success of this place is as much down to him as me. When you think of Hello Sunday you think of the food, right? Enough said.
How did Hello Sunday come to be?
My business partner Jonathan and I had a friendship that went back a few years, and he and his wife Yasmeen had to move their business the Pascha from its original site next to Black Betty pre-quake to a new location, and when they found the Elgin Street site Jonathan got in touch with me while I was overseas and said “When you come back to Christchurch I have a spot I want you to look at, and I think we should start a café”. That’s where it started.
What was the plan when you opened Hello Sunday?
The plan was to create a really epic brunch restaurant, not so much a café but a brunch restaurant with table service, inventive menus and more care than the usual model, because we saw a hole in the market for that, and it’s shown because I think a few people have followed suit.
Where did the concept for the epic brunch restaurant come from?
I saw it a lot while I was overseas. I used to work in a place called Medina in Vancouver, Canada, which is probably one of the best brunch restaurants I have ever known, and super popular. I had never seen such a level of cuisine put into breakfast food; ideas beyond what people thought were breakfast. All sorts of multi-ethnic influences transferred into a brunch version of these classics. Working there I thought it was such a great idea to do an extensive, inventive concept of brunch, and knowing I was moving back, the idea of doing something inspired by the places I’d seen in Canada, Europe and Australia excited me.
What can you tell us about 5th Street, and when will it open?
It’s going be an operation based around the effort of our core team at Hello Sunday. It will be an extension of our ethos here in terms of our care for customers and our approach to food being fresh, inventive and creative. We’re going for a shared dining approach, so I guess the cuisine type would be contemporary shared bistro that’s slightly more interactive, where you order for the whole table rather than just yourself, and everyone gets to try a little bit of everything – it’s a fun way to dine. We’re going to put a real focus on quality drinks: cocktails, wine and Christchurch craft beer. We want to have a really nice lounge bar space as well, with a table service bar. Basically from the moment you come in someone greets you, whatever you’re looking for – if you just want to chill on a couch with a low coffee table and have a drink and small bite to eat then that’s where you’ll go. If you’re coming in to dine more formally, we’ve got our dining space as well, but whatever you do, you come in, you get seated and met with a smile and care for your experience, and from there on in you’re just taken care of until you leave. It’s an extension of Hello Sunday into the evening – we want to connect with our customers more than your average restaurant does. We want to be open for Christmas, but at the latest, it’ll be January.
How did you get into hospitality?
As soon as I left high school; I’ve been working in hospo for around 11 years. I think my first job was as a dish hand at Le Café, and after that I worked as a barista at Metro by the Town Hall, and then I moved off overseas. I tried to go to uni a couple of times, but each time I went back to hospo, and I realised I was actually doing what I wanted to be doing – and it could be a serious career path! So I think my young self was doing hospo and loving it, but always thinking I needed to be doing more; then I realised I didn’t and could go gung-ho at it.
You always seem to be here; how important is being hands-on?
It’s hugely important. When we talked about care, it’s about customer relations, it’s knowing your staff and making them feel comfortable in their role, and being absolutely sure the flow of things is going exactly how you want it to. When I think of all the best restaurants I know they’re all owner-operated. Even when I think of Christchurch and my favourite spots – like Roots, Twenty Seven Steps and The Bicycle Thief – you find the owners there, and it’s no coincidence that they’re the best places. I think it’s important to set the pace. I work as hard as anyone, and that’s how it should be.
How many hours do you work?
It’s hard to say; there’s hours spent on the floor and hours at home. I take phone calls at all hours, answer emails at night – you can’t measure that. It’s got better, that’s what I can say – it used to be pretty rough! Now that I have a team that I trust, I would say that I’ve gotten down to around a modest 45 hours on the floor. It didn’t start that way; I did the first four months pretty much open to close every day. It’s just what you gotta do.
How do you unwind after a shift?
Basically I just like to go home and hang out with my partner. I watch basketball. I’m a religious basketball fan. I play a little bit socially. I guess all my hobbies have been put on hold for four years, but I’d say taking my dog to the beach for a walk is the best way to unwind. Though some days after 10 hours of people, people, people, the TV and couch are calling!
6 Elgin Street