Home' The Wellingtonian : August 25th 2011 Contents 10 THE WELLINGTONIAN, AUGUST 25, 2011
For my brain to grow in my
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Those memorable days at Suzy's
Joseph Romanos talks to Suzy van der Kwast
about waitressing in Invercargill, Rita Angus and
becoming a New Zealand citizen.
Suzy van der Kwast: ''I didn't want people sitting round all day just chatting. It was a business!'' Photo: FAIRFAX
Why did you leave the Nether-
Life there was not easy after the
war. There was a waiting list of
about 10 years if you wanted a
house. I decided to immigrate to
Australia. Some of my friends
suggested Canada, but I d seen
films of Australia and liked the
look of it.
I had two brothers living in
New Zealand and they said that s
where I should go. They said all
the criminals went to Australia,
that there was a better class of
people in New Zealand. So I went
to New Zealand.
Where did you live?
Invercargill, where one of my
brothers lived. Our ship berthed
in Wellington. Then we got a ferry
to Lyttelton and a train the rest of
the way. By the time I got to
Invercargill I truly felt I was at
the end of the world.
What did you think of
I loved it and still do. We go
back there often. In fact, we travel
all around New Zealand as often
as we can, every corner. Such a
What job did you do in
I was a waitress in the Bamboo
restaurant. It was very busy.
There were a lot of ships berthing
in Bluff, and the sailors would
come into the restaurant. But the
wages were very low -- £7, 5
shillings -- a week. After a year I
decided to push on, and moved to
Were you homesick?
Terribly. My father died half a
year after I arrived in New Zea-
land. My mother had died when I
was nine. I spoke only Pidgin Eng-
lish. It was not so easy.
On the way to Invercargill the
year before I had walked the main
street of Wellington and thought,
I m going to live here . I wanted
to make money and be indepen-
dent, and Wellington seemed like
a good opportunity. When I
arrived I did three jobs -- cleaning,
housekeeping and waitressing --
for nearly two years. Then I
opened the Windmill cafe in
What was the coffee bar
scene like then?
There were a few, but nothing
like now. The Windmill had been
a motorcycle repair place and I
had to clean all the oil and grease.
A big job. Our cafe went well. We
opened early to get the people
from the markets, then the people
from the factories.
And then you opened Suzy s
in Willis St.
Yes, a friend of mine, Fritz Eis-
enhofer, designed it, and my hus-
band Tom and I ran it. I loved it
there. It was hard work, but fun.
It became the place in Wel-
lington to go for coffee.
We had a lot of regulars. Ron
Brierley and all his crowd came in
every day for years and years. He
was a very nice person. Bob Jones
came sometimes. Rita Angus
would come in each afternoon and
sit up on the mezzanine and draw.
One day she asked if she could
sketch me. I said I didn t have
time to sit around and be a model.
Too busy! She was a lovely lady.
You always seemed to be
urging customers to move on.
Well, we had only so much seat-
ing, so I did sometimes get them
sitting closer together, and I
didn t want people sitting round
all day just chatting. It was a
business! But it was a nice atmos-
phere. Great days.
What did you do differently
to other cafes?
We did things well, that was a
big thing. We went to the markets
and bought produce and made all
the food. Our night manager made
cakes at her home. I did a lot of
cooking in the flat we had on the
top floor. Our coffee was good,
Why did Suzy s close?
It had been going 23 years. We
bought the buildings from Suzy s
right up Willis St to the corner of
Boulcott St. Then the Majestic
Tower was planned and they all
had to be pulled down to make
way. It was sad in a way, though
good for us financially. However,
it had been a lot of work and
maybe it was enough.
There was a book about you
last year -- Suzy's -- A coffee
house history. What did you
think of that?
Susette Goldsmith, who wrote
it, did a great job. It brought back
a lot of memories and many
people have been in touch with me
after reading it.
What do you think of the
cafe scene in Wellington now?
There s so many now, and some
good ones, too. I like Mojo and
Astoria. And the Greta Cafe, just
along from where we live, is very
After a few years you ran a
Thai restaurant, didn t you?
Yes, the Oriental Thai on the
corner of Vivian St and Cam-
bridge Tce. It had 70 seats. We did
it well and it was successful, but it
was not as much fun as Suzy s.
I notice you became a New
Zealand citizen recently. Fifty
years after you arrived!
I have always felt like I was a
Wellingtonian, and am very grate-
ful to Wellington. My family
wanted me to become a New Zea-
lander, so I did it. I m very glad I
What family have you got?
Tom and I have one son, Bart,
who is an IT projects manager.
We re very proud of him. And we
have three grandchildren.
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