Written by Joanne Barrett
There is no doubt over the past few decades Chris has been the driving force behind a number of ground-breaking business ventures - Notoriety, Real Groovy Records and Java Jive in the 1980s, Kerouacs and Atomic Cafe in the 90s, and today Cafe one2one.
A visionary and entrepreneur, he forged a pathway that would lead to a harmonious combination of cafes, coffee and music, well before cafes and the coffee culture had become a way of life in New Zealand.
Chris Priestley’s contribution to people, music and hospitality has not gone unnoticed over the years, but he takes it in his stride - there is an element of humility about Chris.
Money was never his motivation and still isn’t. He cares about and trusts that what he does is right - it comes from the heart and this continues to be his guide. Chris says he loves to see people happy, and when that happens he is happy.
His father was a postmaster which meant the family moved around a bit. Chris was brought up in Nuhaka on Mahia Peninsula then Tokomaru Bay and finally Turangi. However every school holiday he would stay at his nana's place in Ardmore Road in Herne Bay.
“She was my favourite nana,” says Chris, “I loved it when she would take me down to the Herne Bay Women’s Bowling Club where she was president. Many years later I helped turn it into the Herne Bay Petanque Club which still thrives today.”
It was 1980 and Chris had made Ponsonby home. His first business venture, Notoriety was located in the West Lynn shops on Richmond Road (where Mamata is now). They sold old radios, amps, musical instruments and a few records. By 1981 Notoriety was relocated to Mt Eden Road in Eden Terrace and underwent a name change.
With his friend Chris Hart they combined their record collections and formed Real Groovy Records.
His partnership with Hart ended in 1985 with a toss of the coin to see who would buy the other out. Hart remained at Real Groovy Records.
Meanwhile, Chris and his wife Laurel, and business partners Sally Fowler and Larry Griffin launched Java Jive on College Hill – a hugely popular Jazz and live music venue that served food and saw the internationally renowned group The Ink Spots gig there. Java Jive later moved to Pompallier Terrace and by 1989 Chris sold his share of the business to set up a deli cafe, Kerouac on Vulcan Lane.
“It was while I was setting up Kerouac that I developed an interest in roasted coffee, Says Chris.
“Craig Miller of Millers Coffee had a passion for coffee which I picked up during the short time I worked for him. I decided a cafe that served freshly roasted coffee with music as a focus would be a fun thing to do, so by March 1992 and back in Ponsonby, Atomic Cafe was born.”
Music did play a big part in this innovative cafe, as did the freshly roasted coffee made from one of the few espresso machines around at the time. The coffee was so popular a bigger roaster was required. They moved the roastery to Dominion Road then to Kingsland. Chris eventually sold the roastery but kept the cafe.
The roastery and its name Atomic Coffee Roasters was later resold to Cerebos Greggs which meant Chris had to change the cafe name from Atomic Cafe to Cafe one2one. In 2009 he sold one2one, then six years on in 2016 he and Felicity (his wife of 20 years), bought it back, this time with partners, Claire Robertson and her parents Nigel and Kathy.
Chris recalls, “The place was rundown and tired. It had been a special part of many people’s lives including mine so we decided to bring it back to life.”
Cafe One2one on Ponsonby Road has a comprehensive line-up of live music every Thursday Friday and Saturday evening and on Sunday afternoon.
Thursday night sees a gathering of invited musicians, usually a dozen or more who play blues, bluegrass, gypsy flamenco and Celtic music. Friday is jazz with Peter Wood and friends on piano, saxophones and vibes along with several singers. Saturday is concert night with folk friends and dinner is available. The first Sunday of every month holds a young musicians open mic event from 3pm and the second Wednesday of every month from 7pm is a spoken-word open mic night.
Chris was introduced to folk music in 1975 at Auckland folk club, Poles Apart. 10 years later he formed a group called Acoustic Confusion with Julian McKean and Denny Stanway. Also in the group was harmonica virtuoso Brendan Power who would go on to play with Riverdance, Sting and Ray Charles.
During his time at Real Groovy Records, Chris’ involvement in the folk music scene included making two LP’s. One was a compilation of Auckland singer songwriters including Mahinarangi Tocker in 1984. Chris would later release his own album ‘From Argentina to Invercargill’ – a collection of contemporary folk songs.
“My enthusiasm for music has been all about New Zealand songwriters. I have written songs that tell stories about characters from New Zealand’s distant past, as I felt much of our history had been neglected." At Cafe one2one, his folk music show now involves use of multimedia, photos and newspaper readings. Chris plays guitar and sings, Cameron Bennett is on a Dobro acoustic guitar, Nigel Gavin on a seven-string guitar plus others on harp and violin all supported by beautiful harmonies.
Chris continues to do what he loves most, and he gets to do it in Ponsonby - a part of town very close to his heart.
“I love the small village feel of Ponsonby. Safe even late at night, it’s lively, it’s got soul and character, a mixture of cultures and ages and parking is mostly ok. I live above the cafe so I have a great view of the city, harbour and Sky Tower from my back window.”
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