Wellington is the creative hub of New Zealand and while it delivers in terms of theatre, exhibitions and live performances, there remains a niche that needs to be filled. Wellington needs more collaborative spaces.
Situated just off Cuba Street, August is a coffee shop that has taken heed of this gap in the market.
In order to entice customers, owner Ben Lenart knew he needed to offer something more than excellent coffee and friendly conversation.
“We’re slightly off the beaten track, so we had to be a destination,” Lenart says. “We want to offer an experience. August is celebration of craft, creativity, and innovation.”
August functions as an exhibition and collaboration space, working with both fledgling and well-established artists and businesses. But the emphasis on providing a space for the creative arts goes beyond making a buck from milk and beans. It’s this that makes August an intriguing venture.
Lenart acknowledges that Cuba Street and its environs are heavily endowed with cafes. His target market has typically already established their daily coffee routine.
However, August’s point of difference means it attracts customers above and beyond the daily grind. The venture has gotten off to a good start, a steady trickle of students and workers come in for their daily fix as I sit on one of the three motley stools provided. But Lenart aims to attract a broader customer base.
Taking a turn away from the busy promenade of Cuba Street – humming with black garbed students and haphazard drifters – and walking into August is like entering an art gallery. The design is minimal and the walls white-washed. The coffee machine and art exhibitions take pride of place.
Housed in what was once a textiles company, the building then became home to a printing press. Global Fabrics operates from the remainder of the building – the door linking the coffee shop and fabric store is always open.
The history of the building offers much to the current tenants, a mammoth hook and chain, once used to manoeuvre giant pallets of paper for the printers, hangs within the shop.
The collaborations have been well thought out and make good use of August’s gallery-like feel. Lenart wants to attract customers interested in creative projects from art to fashion to cuisine to motorcycles.
First, there was the ‘Scotties sale’ where a couple of racks of sale clothing were installed in August for a day. Scottie’s is a high-end fashion boutique whose patrons might not usually make the trip down a side street of the quintessentially offbeat Cuba Street.
‘Gangs’, the creative ensemble featuring Andrew Steel, launched their T-Shirt label at August on a Friday night alongside a photographic exhibition by Blake Dunlop. Their friends and supporters spilled out onto Garrett Street. These friends and supporters are now aware of the space and its support of the arts. Lenart has spotted some of those who attended the launch back at the shop, buying coffee.
But the collaborations are about more than just attracting customers. Artist Tom Mackie is the manager of August and he is avid in his support of creative spaces. His art has featured on the walls and he is the driving force behind the exhibitors and launches.
“Tom has been the major influence in the formation and development of August,” says Lenart.
Formerly on exhibition at the City Gallery, Wellington, a sculpture by Rohan Wealleans will soon arrive to continue the August exhibition space. Janicot Vader is a huge, ornately decorated purple deer, complete with a shark’s mouth gaping out of its stomach. A much anticipated future creative instalment will involve the disassembling and then reassembling of a vintage motorcycle.
“This is about embracing craftsmanship – that of seeing the creation of a beautiful motorcycle,” Lenart says.
Love Honey is a fledgling company staking a claim in the burgeoning honey business. A 44 gallon drum of its honey was recently delivered to August, where, with the help of the colossal printing press hook, a delicious batch of honey mead was produced.
Love Honey’s clover honey is stocked in store with the August label adorning its jar.
“This is the real thing,” Lenart says. “You can almost taste the tussock of central Otago.”
Quality artisan products are a mainstay of the August brand. Its beans are People's Coffee (a Fairtrade label) and Zany Zeus Organic Milk is used to make its highly-rated end creation – a superb cup of coffee. This support of local businesses reflects the community driven nature of the venture.
August takes its name from the wily entrepreneur and inventor of the croissant, baguette and convection oven, August Zang.
After returning to Vienna from Paris in 1844, Zang also founded the newspaper Die Presse. A consummate businessman, and not merely resigned to one trade, Zang would undoubtedly approve of August, the coffee and art space named in his honour.