The “rudest cafe in New Zealand” has hit a fresh height of controversy, with a report that police visited to offer owners Karyn and Donald Cullingford “customer service advice”.
The Springfield Store and Cafe, on the western edge of the Canterbury Plains, is the last spot to grab a feed before Arthur’s Pass – and according to Trip Advisor (1.5 stars) Google Reviews (1.5) and Yellow (1 star) it’s the last place you would want to.
“Never have I struck such a rude person,” Christchurch’s Col Henderson said in a review of the cafe earlier this month – one of 71 (of a total 99) on TripAdvisor to rate the establishment “Terrible.”
“As Kiwis it is concerning that tourists get to experience this sort of service in our country.”
A visitor from Bateman’s Bay offered, “Didn’t even get to see what the food was like. – was told there was no coffee, didn’t do breakfast and the lady just wanted to go home.”
“Olivia” weighs in with, “The older lady slammed down our chips and rudely mocked myself and my friend and mumbled something about us under her breath.”
Another customer relates a verbal attack on an Indian woman with a child who was playing up, the day after the Christchurch mosque massacres. “The lady owner with the grey hair came out from the kitchen and shouted at the top of her voice in a very angry manner.”
On Google Reviews, Christine McKenzie writes, “The rudest- nastiest – people behind the counter you will ever met – Don’t bother to go there!”
The cafe does get a couple of nods for its pies (Karyn Cullingford reportedly placed fifth and second respectively in the cafe boutique section of the 2012 and 2013 Bakels New Zealand Supreme Pie Awards).
But comments like “an embarrassment” and “wish there was a zero option” are far more common. Marc Archbold says, “Super unfriendly, rude, slow service, cold, dangerous iced up entry.”
“We needed to keep travelling so I went in to ask if I could change to takeaway,” a Christchurch woman writes. “This hit a nerve for the owners and their abusive behaviour was insane; takeaway bags thrown at me and told to pack my own food. They screamed at me this isn’t McDonalds; I wasn’t suggesting it was but even a fish n chip shop doesn’t take 45 minutes … My husband came in because he heard the commotion and we were pushed and hit out of the store. Locals heard them screaming at us and told us this happens at least once a week.
STOP giving these horrid people business, they are out of control!”
Another customer says, “Probably the most sour, rude, and paranoid ever. Asked when pies were made and the lady immediately went into attack mode. Simple question simple answer, not for her. It was like I had insulted her. I hate this place and will never go back.”
The bad reviews go on and on.
How can a store survive such critiques?
Perfectly well, it turns out.
Companies Office records have the Cullingfords taking over the cafe in 2010.
The Springfield Cafe was highlighted by the Herald back in 2016, in a piece headlined “New Zealand’s own Fawlty Towers” – in which an intrepid Kurt Bayer tried the food and service for himself. He braced himself for an encounter with what a contemporary online reviewer had called “the rudest woman in New Zealand” but found the owners chatty and helpful, if the fare “average.”
The same year, the Cullingfords also featured in a nine-minute video posted by an angry customer who had waited an hour (his version) or half an hour (the owner’s) for a pottle of chips. It’s a high volume exchange that makes John Cleese’s fictional restaurant owner sound laid back (you can watch it here. Warning; language).
Yet through all the heroically bad publicity, the Springfield Cafe has stayed in business in its spot on the tourist trail. Like the fictional Fawlty Towers, it’s a survivor.
Police and the Cullingfords did not immediately return calls for comment.