Popular cafe Hello Sunday now has a sister restaurant directly across the road. Co-owner Chris Penny talks about 5th Street and the power of collective efforts.

Walking in the doors of Sydenham’s newest dining establishment, 5th Street, is like being drawn into a whole other world: a vertical garden leads you into the restaurant where the atmosphere is magnetic, the lounge style and booths inviting, and the staff sincerely charming.

Diners are treated to a menu that changes weekly and consists of shared plates for a table; to wines you’d rarely find in a supermarket; and to beers where the palate can experience the familiar or experiment with the new.

Says co-owner Chris Penny: ‘With the amount of operators already in Christchurch why would we open something that’s the same as everything else? We kinda dared to be different and we’re good with that. Sometimes the best things in life are pushing your comfort zone – that’s what we’re about.’

Chris and business partner Jonathan Spark (both of Hello Sunday fame) have certainly pushed hard, transforming a large industrial warehouse in Elgin Street into a bespoke restaurant and taking everyone along on the journey with them. The new restaurant’s name references some local history. Elgin Street, being five streets down from Moorhouse Avenue, was originally called 5th Street.

The pair established a sizeable following on Facebook during the 11 months it took to construct the restaurant.

‘It built up a lot of anticipation and hype, and it’s been overwhelming, in a great way, how many people have been waiting for it,’ Chris says.

However, he confesses to an element of caution, especially about the first year of trade. ‘People need to find out about you and when you just open something up in the middle of Sydenham, it’s not exactly swarming with other establishments around you,’ he explains.

‘But this turned out to be a bit of a blessing, actually, and I guess I underestimated our Hello Sunday audience. When we first opened Hello Sunday we never had that audience and we were just coming out of nowhere.’

Chris and Jonathan know well the power of collective effort, especially with their core team who almost literally helped build the restaurant by hand. Chris speaks highly, and very proudly, of the staff, and knows each member well.

Chef Samson Stewart was head chef at Hello Sunday and has shares in 5th Street, alongside chef Maximus Perry. Stewart’s partner, Sarah Leah Gunn, is a duty manager and front-of-house. ‘She is an incredible waitress and really cares about people and is a huge part of what we do,’ Chris says.

Restaurant manager Wynn Kerstens has worked both here and abroad. ‘He has the caring nature we were looking for. We don’t roll with people who think they’re hotshots and have an ego about them, because then it’s all about them. But for us, it’s all about the customer, so Wynn fits in with that really well.’

The grand bar which sits proudly in the restaurant was built by Ezra Eseese, and now he runs it. ‘He’s a hell of a guy,’ says Chris. ‘A really charming young man, super passionate about drinks, cocktails and what he’s doing. And the customers just love him because he has an infectiously bubbly personality that comes out from behind the bar.’

So what’s the philosophy behind the business? ‘It’s people. It’s what we do. It’s all based on what emotions and feelings you evoke in people with the things you do, and I guess that’s what hospitality is all about. If you think about it, everything is about how people feel: how the food makes them feel, how drinks, service, the atmosphere. Are they comfortable? It’s almost 100 percent about that,’ Chris says.

‘When you come in the doors you’re taken care of by people who genuinely want to be there, and want to see you have an experience. That’s our point of difference; the genuineness of how much we care.’ 

WORDS Kineta Booker PHOTOS Cassandra Kovacs

FeaturesBlueprint Ltd