Kicked out and kicking off


One of the country’s top cafe owners is in a froth with her landlord after being kicked out of her original Queenstown site.

Queenstown institution Vudu Cafe closes its doors today after 19 years on Beach Street.

Michelle Freeman - whose new eatery Bespoke Cafe was last month voted New Zealand’s best in an annual competition - says she’s gutted to be turfed out of her “quaint” original premises.

Queenstown business giants the Davies family, headed by Sir John Davies, bought the building and two neighbouring ones for about $10 million a year ago.

They’re knocking them down and building three 90 square metre shops with offices above at a cost of $2m.

Freeman says: “I wish we could be here for another 20 years.

“But we’re leaving because the landlords are kicking us out and pulling the building down.”

Freeman says the new building will provide an empty shell over two levels that they couldn’t afford to properly fit out.

Vudu’s current rent is about $140,000 a year but the new premises will be another $40,000 on top, she says.

“They made a sort of half-arsed attempt to keep us but we’d never get our money back.

“They’re just putting chain stores in here.

“It’s a shame they don’t support locals after all these years.”

Even architect Michael Wyatt admits the new buildings will be “really just three shoe boxes with one side cut open”.

Freeman says Vudu and neighbouring restaurant Solera Vino, now closed, were on all the Destination Queenstown brochures for years “making Queenstown look quaint”.

“But let’s just kill all of that, we’ve already killed most of it.

“It’s the end of an era. There’s a lot of history there for people, there’s been a queue out the door all week.

“It’s crazy to close down a flourishing business.”

Mike Davies, director of family company Beach Street Holdings Ltd, told Mountain Scene back in October the premises were about to fall over and couldn’t be modified.

He declined to comment on Freeman’s frustrations.

Freeman, along with co-owners Rae Ellis and Chris Vile, were voted NZ’s best cafe operators last year for their new Bespoke Cafe on Brecon St.

That’ll remain open, as will the Vudu Cafe + Larder on Rees St.

But the original, which Freeman opened on her own, is no more.

It now employs about 50 staff a year. Most will get jobs at the other cafes but some will be laid off.