A Zest For Strife

Posted by on Jul 12, 2011 | 35 Comments

Michael Wang of Calypso: whose table is that?

Michael Wang of Calypso: whose table is that?

Businesses come and go in Devonport, but few well-loved businesses are likely to have gone through the nightmare that the owners of Calypso cafe currently find themselves in.

Calypso  – run by Michael and Anne Wang – have a new landlord. The landlord wants them out.

The Speculator has some sympathy with a landlord’s perspective; at its heart the landlord/tenant relationship is purely and simply a commercial relationship. Unfortunately however, the relationship between small, local businesses and their customers is often a lot more than that. This invariably leads to tension, particularly when the community sees a much-loved business disappear because the landlord wants to double the rent, or to inveigle one tenant into their building at the expense of another.

Or in the case of Calypso Cafe, to do both at the same time.

Enter, stage right, Andrew Steele, local dentist and landlord of the premises at 8 Victoria Rd.

Oh – and at the same time  – that new tenant, who has in the interim moved in next door to Calypso (as Zest), gets the council to give them a slice of the valuable outside terrace and seating which Calypso had already paid for. The council accedes to their demands, arbitrarily changing the terms of the license it had signed with Calypso while reducing its value, having already taken their money. Enter stage left, council official Marius Nortje.

Oh, sorry – one more thing; that new tenant  – in an apoplectic state – one recent Saturday afternoon marches into Calypso and performs a public tantrum in front of the owners and a number of stunned patrons – and demands the people sitting at her outside tables (but are Calypso customers) to be moved at once before she calls the police, council, and the UN War Crimes Tribunal. (The last one could be speculation).

Enter through the front door and exeunt through the roof while trailing her composure, one Pauline Colmar, co-founder of market research company Colmar Brunton, owner of Zest and tenant-in-waiting for Calypso’s premises.

So perhaps understandably, the chief protagonists in this sorry drama – the Wangs –  are not happy. In fact, they are pretty miserable.

The Wangs have successfully run Calypso for seven years, providing a constant supply of quality food and a friendly and hospitable locale for all comers, and particularly families with children.

That was until their previous landlord sold up to Andrew Steele last year. Steele would like to replace his existing tenants (the Wangs) at the end of their lease in August 2012, and double the rent. The Wangs have no first right of refusal on their lease, so their is little they can do. Despite them agreeing to the doubling of rent to renew, Steele wants them out and has already signed up Ms Colmar to take over the lease in 2012. (In so doing, Steele has acted entirely within his rights).

The Wangs were understandably devastated, but with little recourse to other avenues of redress, are preparing to close Calypso for good. For who would want to buy a business dependent on a lease that would expire in 12 months? So despite buying a business 7 years ago, but due to the plans of their landlord, they will exit with nothing, although to be fair, Colmar did make them an offer for the business, at what Michael Wang estimated at about 25% of its value.

So having also ousted the previous tenant (Village Green Health) next door, Steele then signed up Colmar and her Zest venture. And it wasn’t long before a bad situation started getting worse for the Wangs.

Despite having already paid for the permit, the council informed the Wangs that the amount of land they could use for the outside seating area had been reduced from 20 square metres to 13, the difference being the slice in front of Zest. The Wangs complained. And council official Nortje, in the time-honoured tradition of council officials, then threatened to arbitrarily rescind the permit if the Wangs made a fuss. So they didn’t.

However, fed up with their treatment, the Wangs eventually asked local Board chair Chris Darby to investigate how the council could unilaterally break the terms of a contract it had signed. Darby is currently awaiting an explanation from his officials, but is particularly interested in which bylaw allows the council to break an agreed and executed contract.

Then, two Saturdays ago, an apparently enraged Pauline Colmar entered Calypso and in front of a complement of customers, angrily demanded that the Wangs remove an elderly couple from one of the tables located in her area, before she called the police. According to Michael Wang, her behaviour was bad enough for her to feel compelled to return a day or so later to apologise; but only to their 12-year old daughter for having used such foul language in front of her.

“That really upset me. She apologised to our daughter but clearly thought it was OK to swear at us”  Michael Wang said.

The Speculator has spoken to people who witnessed the event, and from their accounts it would seem Colmar’s behaviour was extreme to say the least. The elderly man at the table allegedly had the paper he was reading ripped from his hands, and by the time he left (after Michael had asked him to move to alleviate the situation), he was visibly upset. According to witnesses, Colmar unleashed a prolonged and intimidating rant at the couple. One witness commented; “It was so over the top, I thought she was on something.”

The elderly woman remained unmoved, and her defiance served only to further enrage Colmar, who then entered Calypso to further vent her spleen at the Wangs.

The Wangs are left with the deeply unpleasant sensation that they are being pressured to move out before their lease expires. For a couple who have worked hard but fruitfully in the competitive Devonport cafe scene for seven years while providing one of the more pleasant locations to enjoy a good coffee and a decent snack, it’s a sad ending and an distasteful insight into the machinations of some of our local businesses.

The Speculator labours under this old-fashioned misapprehension that there is more to being a human being than getting what you want at any cost, and when people’s livelihoods are at stake, there is an accepted requirement to act with integrity. It’s up to the reader to decide whether some of the parties involved in this sad story have lived up to those standards that one might usually expect.

By way of a footnote, one witness to Colmar’s apoplexy related how the elderly woman, on leaving the cafe after the incident, went to the front door of Zest. Calmly confronting the conniption-consumed Colmar, she said she could recommend the cafe next door if Colmar was ever after a decent coffee, and hoped she would have a better day than she was currently having.

Touché.

NB: The Speculator has attempted to contact Pauline Colmar to get her side of the story, but has thus far been unsuccessful.

Editor’s Note: Dick Brunton, Executive Chairman at Colmar Brunton, has pointed out that Pauline Colmar has not worked at Colmar Brunton since 1989.

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35 comments

  1. SBS says:

    I´m so disappointed to read this article and most of the responses posted here. As a devonport resident of almost 20 years (and have known pauline and her family) I was really upset to see your personal attacks, false information and one-sided propoganda in regards to Zest and the situation with calypso. In all my time in Devonport i have visited calypso and the old health store only a handful of times. This is because these businesses have disappointed me personally, have a poor reputation amongst many locals and are, more often than not, empty. How often do you really frequent Calypso over manuka, stone oven etc? Is it really any wonder they can longer afford the high devonport rentals?
    I wish someone (perhaps with more journalistic integrity?) could provide the other side of the story so that people are not making up their minds due to just this snide-filled version of events. I find your personal attacks to be, to say the least, hypocritical. You claim your issue is Paulines attempts to sabotage Micheal Wangs business. Yet here you write a slanderous, innaccurate portrayal of someone who is just trying to make her own business successfull and was hardly open a week before someone has tried their best to damage their image. I think you would be embarassed if you even bothered to check your facts. To those of you who are already crying boycott, perhaps you should look to the campbell live team who, after doing some actual research, discovered there really was no story. Go figure.

    SBS – Any thoughts on Pauline’s offensive, expletive-ridden tirade at the Wangs in front of their children, witnessed by several customers spoken to by The Speculator?

    And I’d suggest among the worst arbiters of what makes an important story are the crowd at Campbell Live.

    However – I agree Pauline should be able to get on with making her venture work; let’s all call it a day on the comments here and look forward. – Ed

  2. GB says:

    Yes Michael and his friendly staff are part of our community, and to me, always will be!..lets help to keep him here in Devo, and that outside half circle there does belong to him and his customers, as far back as I remember anyway! People have always sat there, both summer and winter!

  3. VPE says:

    It would be nice if PC (beautifully ironic initials by the way)offered her side of things here rather than putting her team (possibly 1 person) of biased ‘supporters’ on to it. No courage to back up those angry convictions then?
    In response to the suggestion that a boycott etc is not in the spirit of Devonport, au contraire. It is exactly what I love about Devonport: an assertive community spirit and loyalty to our own.

  4. LJ says:

    I can not believe these horrible attitudes are coming from the community of Devonport!
    Fair enough that people are upset that the Wangs may lose their business and the cafe many of you love may close down. But is this really a reason to become nasty and do exactly what you are blaming someone else for doing??
    You all claim Pauline is a bully but what do you call the boycott of two businesses that have the right to a fair go??
    Devonport is a beautiful suburb and I have always thought of the community as a tight knit one which is supportive and friendly. Unfortunately this article, which is frankly rude and written in a way which is gagging for some drama and angst, has brought out the worst in the community.
    I am not impressed and hope that some people realise that this sort of behavior is not only childish but hurtful.
    I will continue to support Zest and all other new businesses that have the balls to try and enter the feisty Devonport market.
    Thanks.


    MC/LJ: The Speculator is extraordinarily keen to help anyone to set up a business in Devonport. However, if Pauline had been subjected to the type of behaviour she herself exhibited (and which has been consistently confirmed by a number of witnesses), would you not expect the community to defend her from the perpetrator?

    Spec readers: Some comments have not been published because of their rant-like nature. If you’re going to comment, please keep a clear head and a fair view of the facts. – Ed

  5. who says:

    had a fantastic smoothie from zest.the staff were very helpful.

  6. Bond says:

    Gosh, I go off jetsetting and come back to Devo At War. Heavens! Perhaps my particular skills are needed right here at home…
    003 (licensed to kick)

  7. Michael says:

    The lease with the landlord would have had nothing to do with the use of the footpath outside of the shop, that is to do with the council. You have the right to use the footpath area outside your business so half of that space would have belonged to the previous shop that was there – they must have chosen not too use it.

  8. Micheal says:

    There are always two sides to a story. The comments seem so cruel and person, is this truly what we call the Devonport spirit? Surely they aren’t the only people in Devonport not to have a lease renewed?

  9. Matilda says:

    MC – good to hear your views. I do have a couple of comments though: a) Why does Zest need two premises? b) The Wangs are not leaving due to economic circumstances – they have offered to pay the doubled rent but the landlord has decided to take Zest instead c) The outside area was paid for up to the end of the lease by Wang, therefore he is entitled (as we all seem to be talking about rights here) not to have to share it until his lease is up – the council have a lot to answer for here and how this was allowed to happen is being examined at them moment d) It is good that the owner of Zest is getting the opportunity to live her dreams/share her passion/pursue her hobby – but does she have to do this at the expense of someone else’s livelihood?

  10. Steve Cancare says:

    Devonport public got rid of Kronic in diaries, quess who’s next??

  11. M.C says:

    RE: VPE

    I didn’t mean to write hobby to describe the business. my wording was wrong. i feel that “passion” would be a better word to describe it.

    I have nothing further to say on this subject.

    Regards

  12. VPE says:

    Dear MC, thank you for your partially coherent point. Interesting that you suggest (I think) that PC is trying to support her family but later describe the business as a hobby.
    Regardless, there is no excuse for verbal abuse or bully tactics.

  13. M.C says:

    I am very suprised by some of the horrible comments that have been posted here and witthin this article. People are taken sides with out giving pauline a chance.I personally am friends of pauline and her family and think that the things you people have been saying are absolutely disgusting! how can you write those words about people from your local community. Also, yes it is a shame that the wangs are losing there business but with this economic year this is happening to many families and sometimes you just have to accept it. Have none of you thought that pauline may have opened this business to support her family aswell?? and thinking that zest will be taking calypsos customers is ridiculous. Zest is selling healthy organic foods with smoothies juices and coffee alternatives? this is nothing even closely similar to what wang is serving at calypso so shouldnt he be blaming the other cafes in devonport for his lack of customers.. I also want to state the fact that wang has been very lucky to only have just lost his space in the semi circle outside calypso. if village green wanted to have outside seating when they were tenants they could have, so would have they had the same response? and saying that pauline was rude towards the customer could have been firstly aggrovated by the customer in the first place. she could have refused to move which would have built up anger and that is why im gathering, pauline did what she did.
    to be honest i think you should all be mature and stop acting like teenagers trying to boycott two peoples business’s and just get on with it. zest provide food for everyones needs especially if your allergic to gluten and are just trying out something new. let them live out their hobby not ruin their dreams.give them a chance and their staff. im going to support them all the way and i think it is amazing what their trying to potray in devonport! a bright healthy food store. why dont some of you people get off the black coffee and go and try a juice? you never know you may actually find your inner self and realise that pauline and her team are just trying to work and have a life. not ruin the peoples around them.
    so for zest all the best and good luck! i will be supporting you the whole way!

  14. JW says:

    Great community journalistism with integrity. How heartening to witness the collective contributions fairness,and warmth of support for those at the mercy of economic injustice via the comments. Boycott is appropriate action. We cannot boycott the council but I look forward to the result of an inquiry as to their apparent incompetent and clumsy action

  15. Monkey Had a Bad Dream says:

    Yes Patient, I realize that Steele has acted within the law, however I personally don’t like how the situation with handled. Sure he’s entitled to act within the law as a property owner but I too am entitled to form an opinion based on his actions and that’s taking our custom elsewhere.

  16. Ears of the East says:

    Having already left as a patient (some 12 months ago as I didn’t like his demeanor) the dentist above Calypso I shall forthwith boycott the new cafe below. Michael and his family are part of our community and deserve our support.

  17. James says:

    Re: Patient

    I agree with the over the top remarks and that he is perfectly within his rights as leaseholder. However it is also within his power to reverse his decision and a consumer boycott is the easiest way of getting this to happen.

    Unfortunately we can’t boycott incompetent / corrupt council officials to express our dislike; so all this does is reinforce my view that the sooner we are out of the $hittycity the better!

  18. Patient says:

    Steady on here guys, I have being going to Andrew Steele for many years and he is a very good, professional dentist. He does not deserve the over the top comments some have made (e.g. suicide, be very careful Mr Steele etc.).

    As the article quite properly says, he has acted entirely within his rights as the property owner. He is not responsible for the actions of Ms Colmar.

    Thank you Patient: I had meant to excise that particular part of the previous comment, but forgot to. – Ed

  19. Kim says:

    Absolutely a boycott, I have pasted this onto facebook and twitter, thanks Spec!

  20. mike says:

    Boycott the place. I’ve been a Devonport resident for over 29 years and its our sense of community that defines us. We dont need this type of person in our community.

  21. Alistair says:

    We’ll tell all our friends around as well. Spread the word.

  22. G.M. says:

    Michael and Ann are a hard working couple who are always friendly, polite and gracious. I’ve been going there for my morning pre-gym coffee for 5 years and not once have I experienced a cross word or an unpleasant experience. They deserve our support. Is this how we treat hard working immigrants in Devonport? Alas it seems so. The place next door will never experience my custom as long as it’s tenanted by the current person. I’ll tell all of my friends and they’ll pass the word on too. Come on Devonport we can do better than this. There is absolutely no need for such intimidation and outright bullying. And shame on the council.

  23. Monkey Had a Bad Dream says:

    Great piece and well researched. The OH will no longer be going to Andrew Steele for dentistry of any kind and perfectly timed for me as I was about to make an appointment for a check up.

    As for Zest, we’ll never give them our patronage and will make sure our guests coming for the World Cup do not either. In fact, I plan to tell everyone I know about this.

    No sure what kind of business owner would use profanity in front of a child and bully an elderly couple just because they’re in their particular real estate. Unprofessional at best. No respect for the young or old and at the end of the day, no respect for the local community.

    Good luck to the Wangs and I hope there is some justice along the way.

  24. Matilda says:

    Michael and Ann were very supportive to my coffee group in the early days when we had small babies. They made big efforts to accommodate us with highchairs, playpens, toys etc and were unfazed by breastfeeding etc which not all cafes are relaxed with. As a result they have kept our loyalty for many years and we will be very sad to see them go. I really hope that this situation will be resolved amicably, it is a real shame when adults can’t display adult behaviour. Shouting and yelling has no place in mature interactions.

  25. RB says:

    Great work. This is community at its best – watching out for others. Pass on profound apologies to the Wangs. Encourage Andrew Steele to steel himself – elsewhere. And as for his Zesty tenants, the name will reside in people’s minds for some time to come – at least until the pesky zesty’s move on.

  26. nick says:

    It was bullying nasty behavior and all our friends will be told about it

  27. Keith says:

    A great bit of writing and the sort of story that must be told. It seems the good old Devonport spirit needs to rise again with a wholesale boycot of both Zest and the dentistry business. Devonport is not the place for these people.

  28. VPE says:

    I had dealings with PC in a previous job. This is very much in keeping with her usual ‘style’. A great start to what will be a rather brief stint on the street methinks.

  29. Jock says:

    Great digging investigative journalism. Shades of Metro of the early days. The Zest Pest should be avoided at all costs. Sounds like a truly nasty piece of work.

  30. lucsar says:

    What a bunch of bullies.. shameful behaviour..surprised they haven’t roped Don Brash in to add a political kick in the ribs..it’s people like this that need to be ousted not the Wangs.I shall boycott ‘Zest’ & tell all to do the same..

  31. robyn gibson says:

    Thank you Speculator for the truth it is tingly and refreshing, my sympathy to the Wangs such warm folks.
    Guess I will be crossing the road when the bullies move in.

  32. Julie says:

    Well done for this gutsy story.

  33. TR says:

    I’ve always assumed anyone in the health products/food industry would know that an uplifting and kindly environment goes with the notion of wellbeing emanating from providing/using natural healthy products. Obviously not when it comes to Colmar and her Zest team. My reaction on walking into the place for the first time was, after a brief look at the stock on the shelves and the food and drink available, to walk out wondering how long they’d last. Quite spiffy in appearance, a few good looking products, nothing appealing to eat on a cold blustery day, but it was the ummm – can you have an ‘unfriendly welcome?’ Perhaps I was there just after the tiff with the dear people next door but I definitely decided not to add the place to my list of regular hang-outs in the village. I’ll save my smoothies and coffee subsitutes for home and continue enjoying great coffee, food and company on my walks into our friendly village. Andrew Steele, perhaps you’d do better to stick to dentistry.

  34. AA says:

    I can feel a boycott coming on!

  35. PS says:

    Aaaaaahhhh! Good word Spec

    conniption – a display of bad temper; “he had a fit”; “she threw a tantrum”;

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