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Auckland Council officials slammed after Hill House Cafe ‘blindsided’ by closure notice

Mary Afemata

The announced closure of a popular South Auckland cafe is causing local outrage.

Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air

The announced closure of a popular South Auckland cafe known for having the best cinnabuns in the city is causing local outrage and sadness.

The Hill House Cafe, in Manurewa, is due to close in June for more than a year after a decision by the Manurewa Local Board to carry out seismic strengthening at the site.

Peter Matvos, Mike Sheeran and Ricardo Le Roux have been owners of the cafe, which is based at the Nathan Homestead, since 2021 - the same year their popular cinnabuns were named Auckland’s most delicious cinnamon buns by Urban List NZ.

‘We were blindsided’

On January 25, a formal letter was issued about the closure of the cafe and was reshared on its Instagram account, alerting customers of the situation.

“We were just blindsided … we’ve got 12 employees that have to look after their families. Our baker has a young daughter and we’ve got young families and lives,” Sheeran said.

“How do we tell these people that we have to stop trading business?”

The co-owners are unhappy with how the Auckland Council has communicated with them, after a meeting in November with council officials.

“We were told that we’re going to move with them [the programmes] to find a spot for us,” Sheeran said.

L-R: Ricardo Le Roux, Mike Sheeran and Peter Matvos, owners of Hill House Cafe, due to close in June. Photo / Ben Dickens

Since going public about the upcoming closure, there has been an outpouring of support from the local community and beyond; with calls to save the cafe.

Mayor Wayne Brown issued a public letter in response; acknowledging it would be financially irresponsible to spend money on seismic strengthening in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis.

“The local board has 35 years to strengthen the building above 34 per cent new building standard. There is no urgency and waiting could enable the local board to take advantage of improvements in regulation or engineering in the meantime.”

The total estimated cost for the seismic work is $5 million and will see the building closed for 12 to 18 months.

Manurewa community rallying to support cafe and homestead

“Spending $5 million on this project right now is irresponsible given the financial strain the council is facing,” Brown said in the letter.

The cafe owners said they were glad to have the mayor’s support.

“He’s saying at the cost of living crisis, we should be investing in people of Manurewa,” Matvos said.

Brown has asked that the Minister of Regulation, David Seymour, review these earthquake regulations and make them more flexible for Auckland.

“It would be sensible for the local board to wait until the outcome of that request and review before proceeding. The work may not be necessary at all.”

Hill House Cafe is known for having the best cinnamon buns in Auckland. Photo / Hill House

Manurewa-Papakura councillor Angela Dalton said this is an issue she is not privy to, but would like to see the cafe remain.

She said it may have come as a shock to the community because of the lack of engagement.

“I would have liked to have seen a greater engagement from the local board with the community because the way that we make decisions locally is to talk to our people.”

Glenn Murphy is the chair of the Local Board Manurewa and said there had been a lot of gossip.

“They feel like they’ve been mistreated but that’s not actually the case,” he said of the cafe owners.

“They don’t actually have a lease at all. They have what’s called a license to occupy - and that expired and our staff discussed all that with them.”

An official letter dated February 9 from the Manurewa Local Board, signed by Murphy and deputy chair Matt Winiata said: “All operators were made well aware that due to the extent of the works required, that all operations would need to cease or be relocated.”

Regarding Brown’s comments, Murphy said: ”Obviously we’re all keen to save money, but we want to improve this place so that it’s easier access for all of our constituents.”

“The restoration, asbestos removal, disability access improvements and remediation works, which also includes seismic strengthening, has been planned and approved.”

Hero image: Mike Sheeran, Peter Matvos and Ricardo Le Roux, owners of Hill House Cafe at the Nathan Homestead in Manurewa. Photo / Ben Dickens

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