Emma Cunningham has taken over management of the Christchurch Gondola’s popular Red Rock Café.

I caught up with Emma on her third day on the job and found her upbeat about the café’s future.

“I was here before. I am now back in the driver’s seat,” enthuses Emma.

While confirming Red Rock Café has been operating well since the Gondola attraction re-opened a year ago – it was closed for two years following the February 2011 earthquakes – she thinks it is time to take the café to a new level.

“With the great team here we are certainly capable of a lot more,” she says.

Her aim is for visitors to Christchurch and locals to perceive Red Rock Café as a destination rather than somewhere to enjoy a coffee, snack or lunch while taking in the view.

“We are keen to showcase what New Zealand has to offer in cuisine and beverages. We will look at our beer and wine selections while offering free-range products along with selections of the best cheeses, salmon and pork.

“Improvements will evolve around food quality and service. Having well-trained baristas, our coffee is outstanding.”

Other projects being considered include wine tastings and opening some evenings for locals, perhaps for a Sunday roast?

“We want to see people stay at the café a little longer, enjoying a second coffee or beer. Annual Pass holders will be particularly welcomed.”

A children’s corner has been reinstated.

Emma brings a ton of hospitality experience to her appointment. She has operated catering organisations and owned two South Island Coffee Culture franchises. She is also studying to be a hospitality life coach qualified to teach adult students.

“Hospitality is a living, breathing, growing beast,” says Emma.   

In the meantime she is researching other well-known cafes in tourist destinations such as Queenstown and Rotorua.

“We need to know how the Red Rock Café compares. One of our points of difference is baking and preparing everything on the premises. A lot of cafes are brings things in on frozen slabs.

“People going to cafes and restaurants are looking for something different. Many will research reviews such as those on TripAdvisor. Our future will rely on our reputation. Word of mouth counts for everything,” says Emma. 

My Red Rock Café visit is on an overcast day of drizzle. The view is playing peek-a-boo with a white veil. Nevertheless the café is buzzing. Emma is called away to help during our interview.

Riding the Gondola down and arriving at the base station I meet up with Ray Pyne driving the Welcome Aboard Grand Tour. On board I am greeted by 24 smiling passengers undeterred by the cloudy day.