By Denise Irvine
Cream wasn’t whipped up in a moment. In fact it’s taken more than a year to achieve the perfect consistency.
We’re talking Cream Eatery here, the new café in Hamilton’s CBD, where there is a happy hum of people, good coffee and good food, and hands-on owner-operators Luke and Chrissy Houghton at the helm.
Luke and Chrissy opened Cream on February 12, they’ve been going gangbusters ever since, with queues out the door at peak periods, calling in extra hands to help with the dishes, calling on their joint skills to welcome, water and feed their customers.
Luke is a trained chef, Chrissy is a baker, and she has a sideline business, Chrissy Cakes, making special occasion cakes. She jokes that another key role is “managing Luke”.
This is Luke and Chrissy’s second “from scratch” hospitality business. The first was Winner Winner Chicken Shop in Hamilton East, which they opened in 2017 with business partner Anthony Wong. The trio later sold their brand and intellectual property to Burger Fuel, they retained the Hamilton East store as franchisees, and then Chrissy and Luke sold their share to Anthony, and looked for a fresh challenge.
This arrived in the form of Cream Eatery: it occupies a primo corner site on the north side of Garden Place, in the gracious old MLC (Mutual Life & Citizens) insurance building. It is part of Hamilton property developer Matt Stark’s latest CBD project, Panama Square, a carefully planned co-working enclave that amalgamates three adjoining buildings.
Matt’s plan for Panama Square was to enhance and activate this corner where Garden Place meets Worley Place and Civic Square. He likes to collaborate with great operators; people who share his vision to bring vibrancy to the city centre. He knew Luke and Chrissy’s work from Winner Winner, they connected, and he saw them fitting perfectly into the mix.
Luke and Chrissy likewise embraced the notion of a business in Garden Place. They ignored the well-worn negatives around the space, saw the positives of helping breathe new life into a charming old building, and creating a new hospo hot spot.
The project was in the early stages last year when the country went into Covid-19 lockdown. Matt says there were a few nervous moments at that point, “but people want to come out to eat, it is a key part of what makes a city vibrant”.
Luke and Chrissy also remained confident. “We’re experienced at this,” says Chrissy, “we’re not afraid of hard work. We thought, ‘If anyone can do it, surely we can’.”
Lockdown actually gave Luke the opportunity to refine his spicy fried eggs dish. He cooked this at home a lot during lockdown and he reckons fried eggs are an unsung breakfast hero. He fries them in red chilli and paprika oil, gets some crunchy texture going, adds spices, and serves them on Volare’s turmeric loaf with roasted red pepper and whipped feta. They already have a strong following among Cream customers.
Luke likes simple food, and he’s relishing the opportunity to change Cream’s menu as often as he wants to. They offer a cabinet bright with salads, savoury food and sweet choices, as well as menus for breakfast and lunch.
You’ll find Luke’s Fried Eggs on the breakfast menu, along with the likes of Coconut Bircher, Pumpkin Smash (smashed pumpkin on sourdough with whipped feta, crispy cavolo nero and dukkah), Shroomy (creamy mushrooms on turmeric loaf), and Breakfast Roti with bacon, egg and kasundi.
It’s robust, generous food, the emphasis on good flavours and top ingredients. “Luke’s not a chef who uses tweezers,” says Chrissy.
He does, though, know how to wield a hammer and chisel and he worked alongside the tradies during the creation of Cream. The build began last October; it ran right down to the February opening day deadline.
The renovation embraces the elegant bones of the building with a melding of industrial chic and fresh modern-day style. The concrete ceilings and beams have been exposed, revealing the date of the MLC building’s construction – 1959 – inscribed in thick white paint by the original tradies.
Colour treatments include blush pink and berry, and the floor has been laid with terrazzo-style Italian tiles (used throughout Panama Square). The deep windows allow plenty of natural light.
Says Luke, as he looks to the bustle of square opposite him, “I’ve always wanted a view from my kitchen.”
- Cream Eatery is the final destination on Feast Waikato’s CBD Events Progressive Dinner trail, Wednesday March 31, and Cream collaborates with Mr Pickles and Chrissy Cakes for Feast’s Basic B*tches Bottomless Lunch, Saturday April 3.