The two guys sitting on the plush red chairs across from me have an obvious rapport with each other. As I gaze around I quietly suspect this is what gives this place its continuity of vision – its edge. It just feels meant to be.
“The whole process of Elie and I starting this journey, began when we were just looking at Courtenay Place and just vibing on the idea of what we could do – looking at New York style street food, and the concept of five boroughs and five sandwiches evolved. We were in negotiations for a lease but it fell through, so we just kept our heads up and kept looking. We decided to go mobile, so we started looking at food trucks. We liked the idea of being in a different place in the city on different days. We found a food truck and flew up to Auckland to buy it, and we had a huge weekend of celebrations up there – we thought “We’re driving down to Wellington in a food truck – awesome!” Then we went to pick up the truck on the Sunday and it just wasn’t what it was supposed to be. It was held together with sticky tape and bubblegum. We had to spend a really hungover day up there negotiating how to get our money back. We ended up with no food truck, and no space, and nothing else to do except keep moving forward – and Elie kept telling me: “it’s taking us somewhere. We’re being led somewhere”.
They were being led to the corner of Roxburgh and Majoribanks Street. To an historic Wellington space. To a rooftop herb garden, a 48 item menu, and another six months of planning.
Five Boroughs is the product of equal parts perseverance, and serendipity. Bryn and Elie had such a clear idea of what they wanted to achieve with the place that it seems the universe conspired – in its own irreverent way – to bring it into existence.
The establishment opened its doors on Sunday; smashing projections for the first couple of days and proving that Mount Victorians and Wellingtonians at large are more than ready for Bryn and Elie’s particular brand of New York street food (complimented of course by bottomless filter Peoples Coffee.)
Aesthetically, Five Boroughs embraces dichotomy, occupying the somewhat divergent space between classic New York Diner, and more edgy Brooklyn hip-hop culture, and pulling it off beautifully.
Bryn enthuses: “We both grew up with hip-hop culture. New York has been a massive influence on us without us even realising it. When we were over in New York it just felt so familiar and we felt so at home – even though we’d never been there before. We’ve listened to the soundtrack of Brooklyn for the last 20 years almost.”
For what it’s worth, I’m sure Q-Tip, Mos Def, and Biggie would all approve.
The menu leaves no holds barred, and has come a long way from the original ‘five sandwiches for five boroughs’ concept – although of course Queens Beans, the Brooklyn Burger, the Manhattan sandwich, Staten Island Stacks and the Bronx sandwich enjoy pride of place. These guys are both foodies from way back, and the menu is wonderfully inventive. As a ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ fan, I’m particularly excited to try the Larry David sandwich, capers and all… (See season 5, episode 1 – ‘The Larry David Sandwich’).
Despite my brief introduction to its proprietors, I can tell that Five Boroughs is the product of a personal journey for both of them. It’s an homage to the influence that New York culture has had on the two of them; musically, visually, and gastronomically. The street photography crowding the walls was all taken by Elie and Bryn, and provides an insight into their New York – with a focus on people. The pictures were taken “just to remind ourselves when we were developing the concept back here – not to forget about it. We wanted to bring it all home, essentially.”
The building itself has a rich history – one which Elie and Bryn are determined to honour. It was once the infamous Monde Marie; an iconic folk bar hosting a who’s who of 1960’s music, and the only place in Wellington to get a post-6 o’clock-swill shot of rum in your coffee (if you knew the right things to say). “This place is where a lot of the Wellington hospitality scene really originated from, it was edgy even then, and it just felt right for us.”
Five Boroughs does feel right, from the fit-out to the menu, to the charismatic pair that made it happen. Stepping through the doors means leaving Wellington behind and becoming a New Yorker for a moment, and we at Peoples Coffee feel privileged to be involved. We suspect this has the makings of an institution. So pop in for a Larry David or a sloppy joe – and let yourself be transported.
Connect with Five Boroughs on facebook, twitter @fiveboroughsnz, or even better… in person.
November 5th, 2014
Posted In: Uncategorized