Wellington cafe culture

Page 6 – Personalities

Some Wellington café personalities

The spectacular growth of cafés in the 1950s played a crucial role in the general 'opening up' of New Zealand society. It contributed to the relaxation of licensing laws in the 1960s and to a corresponding increase in the numbers and types of restaurants. Wellington's café scene was driven by people who actively sought to change the social milieu - to provide alternatives to the ethos of 'rugby, racing and beer' accepted by many, but not all, New Zealanders. Harry Seresin, Mary Seddon, Carmen and Suzy van der Kwast were all individuals of passion and vision who created alternative forms of entertainment and diversion in an otherwise conformist society.

Harry Seresin

Harry Seresin, a refugee from Nazism, arrived in New Zealand in 1939. He was the first person to introduce a really stylish coffee shop to Wellington. Seresin's coffee shop was situated on the balcony above Parsons Bookshop, on the ground floor of Massey House at 158 Lambton Quay. The bookshop and café quickly became a cultural and intellectual haven in the city. Click on the thumbnail to read more...

Mary Seddon

Mary Seddon was a colourful, larger-than-life figure. She travelled alone throughout Europe and on her return perceived a gap in the New Zealand social scene. She decided to establish a café, the Monde Marie, where people could go to just sit and talk. The Monde Marie soon became a haven for folk music enthusiasts. Seddon's European travels also influenced the choice of food she served to customers. Click on the thumbnail to read more... 


Carmen, the founder of Carmen's International Coffee Lounge, was a transsexual with a colourful past. Her reason for establishing a coffee lounge was that she needed her 'own stage' on which to star. In many ways Carmen's was like other coffee bars of the era. The difference was in the décor, the staff and the availability of sex. Click on the thumbnail to read more...  

Suzy van der Kwast

Suzy van der Kwast came to New Zealand as an assisted immigrant in 1960. Her first café, The Windmill, was a great success. She later sold it and bought new premises on Willis Street, where Suzy's Coffee Lounge was born. It was one of many Wellington institutions run by Dutch immigrants who were instrumental in developing New Zealanders' appreciation of good coffee and café society. Suzy's was a Wellington landmark for 23 years. Click on the thumbnail to read more...  



How to cite this page

'Personalities ', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/culture/the-daily-grind/personalities, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 10-Mar-2023