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August 20, 2018 | by  | in Food | [ssba]


A few weeks ago I regrettably learnt that Ilott Café, otherwise known as “Revive” has officially shut. While the reasons for their departure are not clear (something about a lease and mutual agreement, sigh), their departure has left a lacuna in the university and my heart, not just for what it was, but for what it represented.
Surveying what is on offer at Kelburn, it seems that my options are to pay for overpriced cabinet food or sushi, wait in line for The Lab, resort to some type of fusiony-Indian or head to the marae. Of course, there’s pizza in the Hunter lounge, but only if you have friends to sit with. Recently I spoke to exchange students from Singapore, unsurprisingly they lamented the dire food situation on campus. If you didn’t know better, you’d think they had been robbed.
“Kia kaha”, I responded, as I slumped deeper into my chair.
If I were an international student, probably hailing from a food culture richer than ours, I would never come to Vic, based on the food alone. I shouldn’t have to mention the importance of affordable, warm, and decent food for tired and hungry students. I recall wee visits to other top unis elsewhere, tucking into gorgeous falafels wraps and revitalising noodles soups. Nothing to fancy. I also observed the existence of food courts on campus.
It seems odd then, that in a stated attempt to lure in more international students and up its globalised game, this uni thinks it a better idea to spend major dough on a superficial name change, rather than investing in tangible improvements for all students i.e. better food. It is almost tiresome to say now, that in all aspects of life, the neo-liberal imperative of the bottom line and profit maximisation mean some things, like tradition (unless bankable), get bulldozed in a brazen march towards riches (for some).
When I first came to Vic, my mum asked me if “the twins” from Ilott Cafe were still around. Excited to learn of their longevity, she told me that back in 81 one of the twins was dating a close friend of hers and that both twins were such “fun- loving” guys. The twins have been working in this little shop for decades, serving us the honesty of fried chicken and chips (and wedges) from their row of domestic deep fryers. They also did staples like fried rice and noodles and a even touch of something else like nachos, burgers, and hotdogs. Walls lined with lollies, energy-drink packed fridges, and a even pinball machine; for me, while Ilott Café seemed a little stuck in a time bubble, it was precisely that reliability and enduring nature that made it great. It was impervious to fads, like that of trendy “healthy” eating, overpricing, or even hip aesthetics such as the exposed lightbulbs at The Lab. Socially, Illot Café was accessible to all, but also an undoubtedly popular spot for all racial minorities, which to my mind reflects positively on the eatery. It seems that Ilott Café and its patrons never suffered from class-consciousness. It just wanted to feed you reliably, cheaply, and with a smile, no bells, no whistles.
Hearing that Vic plans to change a name a century in the making, and the news of the demise of Ilott Cafe, we mourn the long-standing and the symbolic. We are left to ask where the line between mere nostalgia and inalienable tradition is drawn, in the face of indecent, know-it-all, profit-fetishising money men. It seems clear that these money men don’t know it all.
If they did, a little food court would be built, Illot revived, and an old uni name enhanced in the process. Just to be clear, I don’t really care about the name “Victoria” much. It is a name that is redolent of a shameful history, based on seeds of the same capitalist impulse, where wealth for some was built, and lives for others destroyed, at the barrel of a gun. Yet, it is now New Zealand tradition all the same. No one is perfect, which is to say, nobody’s ancestors were perfect.
I read in these Salient pages that one of the twins was last seen driving an Uber. Make of it what you will. Whether true or not, I would like to thank them from the bottom of my grease-laden heart for sharing their labour of love with us through all these years, and for them to know how important and appreciated they were, in this stodgy material world.


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