You won’t find a coffee machine at Sue Gidden’s café and restaurant tucked away in the countryside. Though it raised a few eyebrows and her family tried to talk her out of it, Sue knew what she wanted to create in her foodie Springston sanctuary: a place where people could sit and let their senses be charmed. And there was certainly no place for a rude machine spouting steam and disrupting that peace.
“I do live by my own rules,” she laughs. But that is why her café, Memorys, works so well: because she doesn’t conform to what ‘ought’ to be in eateries.
And yes, you can still get a cup of coffee, but Sue wants to make sure you only get the best. That means beautiful French press and drip coffee, created from what she considers to be the finest beans. She pays a bit extra to make sure it is so. Because for this creator and collector of memories, every person must depart with a little bit of that special magic she has created in her Springston sanctuary.
Sue has always found beauty in what people no longer want; a “magpie”, she grins.
And that is no more so than when she and her husband Chris stumbled upon an overgrown property in Springston 12 years ago.
“The poor land agent was ready to shoot the gap. But we promised we wouldn’t be long. We walked in through the back entrance and there was an accumulation of debris. We did a wander and the brains started whirring. We looked at each other and said, ‘Bugger’.”
The property had snared its way into their hearts. Forty-five years earlier Sue had worked in hospitality and had wanted to open her own place. But with family and life, the timing just wasn’t right. But it looks like this property was winking at them, telling them that now was the time. Though they gave it a good nudge to convince themselves otherwise.
“I suppose most people would say, ‘Walk away, don’t be stupid.’ We went back four times to convince ourselves not to take the step, but each time we felt more enthusiastic,” she says.
She chuckles when she remembers the reactions of their three daughters as they looked at the property.
“They stood with their mouths open,” she says.
It took seven and a half years for Sue and Chris to clear, gut and renovate the property. Sue at the time was working as a homestay coordinator at Lincoln High School, while Chris was an engineer.
The property was a plant nursery and had a house and three concrete block structures, two of which Sue suspects were potting sheds. The third had a small kitchenette, toilet and bathroom; likely, former staff amenities. And so once the paperwork had been signed, Sue and Chris got on with the job of creating the café and restaurant they had so often dreamed about.
The staff amenities building was to be the restaurant: stripped back to its bones, insulated, plastered and completed with textured paint on the walls. The ceiling was lined with recycled rimu.
Walking into it is like walking into the handsome pages of a leather-bound storybook. Beautiful wooden interiors, with thoughtful little trinkets, weave together.
“I didn’t want any commercial-type furniture in there. After the [Canterbury] earthquakes [September 2010, February 2011] people who had lost their homes were going into new ones and decided they didn’t want their old furniture, so I just gave it a new home,” she says.
Some she managed to save just as a bulldozer was about to flatten them. Because for her, it is a terrible thing to see good furniture come to a sad demise.
Walk through the restaurant and into the courtyard and gardens and it is difficult to think it was once a potholed, overgrown jungle. You’ll walk on the 15,000 recycled bricks laid by Sue and Chris, while in Sue’s “pop it in” garden (called so because of her approach to gardening) you’ll find memories of the couples’ walks and weekend trips – like the daisies grown from a cutting taken during a walk in Diamond Harbour. In spring, the courtyard will be dusted with blossoms, while in autumn it’s a haven for a golden mix of leaves.
Across the courtyard, the two potting sheds have been transformed into elegant rooms, where intimate dinners of 6–12 people can be held.
The Gallery Room is Chris’s wish of a tin shed come to life, with recycled corrugated iron as the cladding while it’s lined with recycled rimu. Charming leather couches, animal skin rugs and memorabilia create an almost hunting lodge feel.
“You can go in there, take your coffee and just sit. Like yesterday, I just opened the doors and the sun streamed in. People who go in there are inclined to sit there all day and don’t want to leave,” Sue chuckles.
It has an old coal range, butter churn and a rather interesting looking “slasher” in the rafters: a gorse cutter.
“My father-in-law as a teenager used to cut back
10 miles of gorse hedge around Tai Tapu with that,” Sue says.
The second potting shed is now the Boardroom and also lined with recycled rimu. It has a charming fireplace, the sort you seldom see these days, and a dining table, etched with the memories of family and friends laughing and chatting while feasting on Sue’s fare.
It is not a “bums on seats place” where your table is keenly eyed-up by the wait staff. Sue won’t be having any of that. And she’ll cook for you with the same passion and love she cooks for her own family and friends.
Though the menu changes fortnightly, you could feast on such things as a yoga bowl, with warmed dahl on a bed of spinach, roasted vegetables, mango chutney, yoghurt and chapati pieces. Or perhaps you might try an Italian pasta filled with pumpkin, served with a brown butter Portobello sauce, pesto, pancetta and pecorino cheese. Or maybe baked brie with shaved truffle and truffle honey... or perhaps bruschetta with whipped goat’s cheese, preserved figs and mnuka smoked bacon is more your style?
When first starting out, Sue admits she was nervous and thought she ought to follow trends. But she squared up her shoulders, reminded herself she doesn’t like conforming, and cooked “food from the heart to feed the soul”.
Likewise, Sue refuses to be seduced by other wineries trying to woo her because she considers Burnham’s Straight 8 Estate to be just the ticket.
“I wouldn’t change the wine for anything. They are a small boutique winery; we complement each other,” she says.
And so if the city has been chasing at your feet, seek out the cottage-like, memory-laden haven hidden away down a long drive in Springston. Relax and chatter away, while eating the gorgeous fare of a woman who knows just what you need. Food for your soul.
Words Shelley Robinson