His cafe Tom’s is one of the small gems of Ōtautahi’s breakfast scene. Now owner-operator Tom Worthington has a second cafe – just a few doors down from the first. He talks to Charlotte Muru-Lanning about opening Estelle, and the overwhelming importance of a good bun.
This is an excerpt from our weekly food newsletter, The Boil Up.
As soon as it opened in March last year, central Ōtautahi cafe Tom’s was an instant hit. Little wonder: the cafe, situated in a teensy, light-filled spot on Southwark Street, has a menu that takes lunchbox classics – peanut butter sandwiches, pink buns, ham rolls – and makes them really, really good.
Last week, owner-operator Tom Worthington opened his second cafe – on the same street. Estelle is a sophisticated older sister to cheeky Tom’s: fewer sandwiches, more opulent-looking toast options; less jaunty cobalt blue, more cursive writing. I had a chat with Worthington about Estelle, one week in.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
CML: What inspired you to open this new place?
TW: It happened so quickly and randomly. It was a cafe before us – Grain Cafe, they would have been there for around six years. A few months ago, one of the landlords approached me and said they were looking to fill the space. Immediately, I was like, “ah no, definitely not”. But then I went home that night, and I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. Something about being on the same street as Tom’s was cracking me up. I thought it could actually work quite well.
The cool thing about it is that we didn’t have to do too much to the space, we’ve actually kept all the fitout and things – it’s a really nice canvas. There’s a new coffee machine and there’s two really lovely artworks by friends, Emma Fitts and Billie Culley – it’s amazing what nice things on the wall can do. We’ve obviously changed the food up here too. We’re mainly doing things on toast and then these really lovely, slightly sweeter options too. Rice pudding, which at the moment is served with tamarillo – delish. And a real yummy butter cake with crème fraîche and feijoa.
The menu feels very different to what I’m used to in Ōtautahi. Was that something you were aiming for?
We’ve definitely been missing a more lush breakfast offering in Christchurch. We wanted to be different. Will Lyons-Bowman is a good friend and he’s head chef here, so it’s things that we would both really want to eat if we were dining out. Will has definitely made it what it is – he is just incredible. People are coming in and feeling a bit rattled by it: there’s no eggs benny, and I guess smoked fish with pickled currants and rhubarb sounds pretty whack.
This is the most boring question that always needs to be asked – what’s behind the name?
Not boring! It’s named after my niece. Estelle is the only grandkid in our family at the moment. So it’s pretty cute, pretty special and a great name.
Both Tom’s and Estelle are on the same street – how close are they exactly?
Literally 50 metres away from each other. A 30-second walk.
I mean, my initial thought was that you’ll be in competition with yourself – why did you see that proximity as a positive?
I’ve never seen an issue with good cafes being close together. Think about Ponsonby or Karangahape Road, it’s like bang, bang, bang. I also see Estelle as being very different to Tom’s. Tom’s is still a lot more fun and chill. I still want Estelle to feel casual but I think it’ll probably end up being somewhere people will come for cute little occasions as well. The other thing is that Grain was a really great cafe and super popular and because it’s in the same building as a shared workspace, there are people coming in and out all the time.
At one point, Will suggested a sandwich at Estelle. And I was like, “definitely not, we’re not doing sandwiches, that’s Tom’s thing”. And we’ve already had some Tom’s regulars come into Estelle and then walk out and be like, “oh, we actually might go back to Tom’s”. And I think that’s just so good – it’s kind of ideal. They’re two very different places. I guess the other thing about them being so close together, if anything goes wrong it’s just a very short sprint down the road to fix it.
Opening a second cafe just over a year after opening your first place feels pretty bold – how are you feeling about the pressure of it all?
I definitely have my days. In the first week of running two cafes it was feeling a bit like “what the fuck” but it’s becoming more normal. I’m definitely just trying to have fun with it. I’m also realising that I’m good at it too. Now that we’re a week down, we’re definitely feeling in the swing of things already and hoping the days will start to get a little bit shorter than they have been, especially for Will – he’s been doing some pretty big days. Estelle definitely wouldn’t be what it is without him. But I’ve got some really great staff too, which is just amazing. I feel very very lucky to have been able to open Estelle and not being too worried about Tom’s down the road because Fran and Sarah [Tom’s staff] have got things down there.
The classic iced pink bun you serve at Tom’s has become kind of synonymous with the space. Has Estelle got an equivalent?
Estelle actually has a bun too. Will’s been making maritozzi [Italian cream buns]. So I think they’re probably going to become the pink bun of Estelle. You’ve got to have a bun.
Estelle is located at 19 Southwark St, Christchurch Central. Open Monday-Friday 7am-3pm.