Wandering the downtown streets of Christchurch, New Zealand, is a bit like wandering around an abandoned movie set. In September 2010 and again in February 2011, devastating earthquakes tore through the city, wreaking havoc on infrastructure. Although a multi-billion dollar rebuild of the South Island city is underway, the effects of the quake are still visible: open-faced buildings are held up by shipping containers, storefronts sit empty, and piles of glass have been swept behind caution tape. Amidst the physical destruction incurred by Christchurch’s earthquake, however, is a resilient and optimistic community spirit well-represented by a very unique coffee shop.
C1 Espresso first opened its doors in 1996, but like many local businesses, it closed post-quake, the original building deemed unsafe and demolished. It took over a year of hard work before C1 Espresso’s founders, husband and wife duo Sam and Fleur Crofskey, could re-open and return to serving customers in their entirely new storefront.
“We wanted to create a space where people could gather together, somewhere that would hopefully re-establish a sense of community in the central city after so many well-loved places were lost,” says Sam. “We re-imagined it completely. C1 Espresso used to be small, dark, and eclectic, now it’s in a big, airy former post office.” The exterior façade of the striking building stands out like a beacon of hope amongst dilapidated structures.
Bustling and warm, C1 Espresso invites visitors to try in-house roasted coffee and their signature, fair trade, and organic C1000 blend—just one example of the Crofskey’s environmental and sustainability initiatives. Other ventures include a rooftop vegetable garden, which grows fresh herbs and edible flowers that are used in the café, while a newly cultivated rooftop vineyard grows grapes that will be harvested for the first time this year (with hopes of producing 60 bottles of Pinot Noir). “It’s a bit like the game Sim City, where you have to invest a lot of time in your city in its early stages, and it takes the equivalent of a generation until you find out whether your decisions are going to pay off,” Sam says.
One risky investment could be identified as C1 Espresso’s ultra-whimsical design. As many of the original café items were destroyed, the new décor found inspiration in the uniqueness of their new location. Clear, pneumatic tubes snake across the roof and slip down the walls to tables, paying homage to the heritage of the old post office building, while delivering gourmet sliders and curly fries at 140 kilometres per hour. The novelty of this style of service (inspired, as it were, by cartoonist Matt Groening’s Futurama television series) is matched in its delightful eccentricity by other peculiar elements dotted throughout the café space. For instance, a vintage sewing machine dispenses drinking water through a needle spout, pinball machines sit blinking in a corner, and bathrooms are hidden behind a bookcase, to be revealed at the push of a certain spring-loaded shelf.
Perhaps the objects that embody C1 Espresso’s restoration-oriented ethos the most are the large, spherical lights salvaged from Christchurch’s old Town Hall (also destroyed in the earthquakes). They hang in a luminous cluster above the café’s varied clientele, who fill the space daily, sipping coffees and milkshakes and delighting in the novelty of futuristic curly-fry delivery. “There are a lot of good things happening in Christchurch at the moment,” Sam says of the restorative levity imbuing the rattled town. “Old venues are coming back to life and new ones are springing up, so the future is looking bright.”