Victoria McDowall and Harry McArthur opened Fred’s Sandwiches in late 2021, and the charming, orange-walled shop has successfully carved its own niche among Cuba Street’s many beloved eateries.
Now, they’ve set their sights on another space only 600 metres down the street, and are opening a second venue with a different offering but the same welcoming vibe.
From mid-August, The Ram will take up residence at 103A Cuba Street. The well-known site formerly housed Plum Cafe (an actual cafe) which then became Le Cafe Plum in 2019 (actually a cocktail bar). It’ll now be a relaxed pub with good food and a thoughtful wine list.
“My great-grandparents had a pub in London in the early 1900s called The Ram that’s actually still there,” McDowall tells Broadsheet. “It’s a bit of a homage to them, I suppose. And we’re channelling a Melbourne-style pub – very casual and approachable, but with a considered menu.”
They’d originally planned to open a second Fred’s in Lambton Quay, but decided on the old Plum site after repeatedly noticing it was for lease. The concept came after that.
McDowall’s from Melbourne and McArthur spent 10 years there – it’s where they met, when both were on staff at Archie’s All Day in Fitzroy. McDowall also worked at Brunswick Street eatery Alimentari and former cafe East Elevation, while McArthur did stints at wine bars Little Andorra and Marion Wine Bar. This experience has informed their approach to their own hospitality ventures in New Zealand.
“We want to keep it really casual and simple and have a definite all-are-welcome policy. We want our menu to reflect that,” says McDowall. “It’s going to be something for everyone – whether you’re a tradie that’s just finished work and you want a pint and a bowl of chips, or you’re heading out and you want a beautiful glass of wine and a nice piece of market fish.”
Customers will order at the bar, rather than table service, and initially there will just be indoor tables (seating 60) while they get up and running. Once summer rolls around, they’ll add those 25-ish extra seats that spill out onto Cuba Street, right next to the playground and bucket fountain on one side, and the square on the other.
McDowall and McArthur have been redoing the fit-out themselves with the help of their families, and the idea is to keep it simple but cosy – not overly modern or stark – and let the space’s high ceilings shine. Sound is a big focus, and they’ve got hand-built Pitt & Giblin speakers coming over from Tasmania.
Many longtime Wellingtonians will have their own memories associated with 103 Cuba Street. For this writer, it was after-school hours spent parked up sipping a vienna (long black with whipped cream on top) – clearly the height of sophistication for a 17-year-old.
“It’s an iconic spot and it’s been left empty for the last wee while which is a real shame. We also feel like that section of Cuba Street is getting taken over by a lot of chains from big corporations and we just want to bring back a bit of that local, independently owned vibe,” says McDowall. “Back in the Mighty Mighty and Matterhorn days, [it was] really pumping and had a really good vibe.”
Even with the challenges of the last few years, the duo have built a loyal following with Fred’s, and that’s led to this new chapter.
“We have been overwhelmed by how incredibly well Fred’s has been received and it’s that success that has given us the means and confidence to tackle a second venue,” she says. “That, and an obvious desire to never sleep again!”
The Ram is scheduled to open on August 16 at 103A Cuba Street, Te Aro, Wellington.