I dropped some mates off in town on Friday night and I was reminded of just how awesome Christchurch has become in such a short time since being munted by the earthquakes. I clearly remember how barren it was even five years ago, but this week it was just pumping – there were bikes everywhere and people having a great time in the new and reborn establishments. What a contrast.
The day of the earthquake I was home in New Brighton on the couch feeling crook, then boom. Outside, there were people just standing in the street in shock, and the first badly damaged building I saw was TJ’s Kazbah, which had basically crumbled to the ground.
At Switch New Brighton, people were scrambling to get out of the place. It was an absolute mess, but the building wasn’t badly damaged. Black Betty Café, on the other hand, was a lot the worse for wear. The back parapet had fallen off the building – a few cars were munted by falling bricks but thank God everyone was ok. Most of our crew headed off to find their families, which was the most important thing for us to do at the time.
At Switch New Brighton, we were up and running again a few days later. We had to bring fresh water in to run the coffee machines because the stuff coming out of the taps was contaminated. The café played an amazing role in those early days – we saw it become the place where people caught up to share their stories with their friends and community, reconnect, and listen to others in a safe place.
Black Betty received some temporary engineering (it would later have to close for proper repairs) and reopened eight weeks after the earthquake. CPIT/Ara was also open, and the café became a great hub in the central city, a place to gather while we waited for other hospitality joints to reopen. At both cafés, I was really appreciative of the team who kept smiles on their faces and played an important part in the community while each person was going through their own pain and trauma.
When the earthquake hit, our roastery was set up in the back room of Black Betty, which was not a viable option to continue after the damage. We briefly used some contract roasters to keep the espresso flowing, then we temporarily moved the roaster back out to New Brighton. It moved several times over the decade just so that we could continue roasting, and has finally found a great home in Birmingham Drive, Middleton.
The last 10 years has been all about disruption, adaption, and survival, and ultimately Christchurch has managed to thrive. I’m really proud to call this city my home, and to work with my great team at Switch Espresso and our three cafés – they all continue to show resilience and bloody good humour in their jobs and everyday lives.
Managing Director, Switch Espresso