Rush Munro’s – been licked for 59 years
In a world where change is the norm, business that doesn’t, shouldn’t survive. But it’s the unchanging nature of one small Hastings business which has not only meant its survival, but its success.
Rush Munro’s Icecream Garden established 59 years ago continues to flourish in the old fashioned premises in Heretaunga Street west – premises which look much the same as they did when they were built after the earthquake in 1931. The original shop, opposite the Embassy Court was destroyed.
Unchanged, too, is the high standard demanded by its founder, Mr Rush Munro. Now owned by Mr John Caulton and his wife, Marie, the recipes for the homemade icecream are the same, the standards required of its patrons (both Rush and now John did and do demand good behaviour in the small tabled area) have not dropped.
And this unchanging nature, Mr and Mrs Caulton believe, is the reason why Rush Munro’s has become a household word throughout New Zealand, and many parts of the world.
They say that they are not quite radical as their predecessor, Rush Munro.
“Mr Rush Munro became noted for his habit of shutting the business completely if he had an argument with a customer. It was quite usual for him to simply dismiss people from the shop and close the doors,” said Mr Caulton.
“However, we have standards of dress and behaviour we enforce in our business.
“We don’t allow people to come in and sit at the tables unless they are dressed properly. People without shirts are asked to put one on, and children who rush around or stand on the chairs are spoken to. And we forbid smoking in our premises,” said Mr Caulton.
The Caultons believe they produce the world’s best icecream, and they should know, as they travel overseas frequently. During these travels they have learned that their icecream’s reputation has spread far and wide.
In 1972 while visiting Hollywood, they became involved with a crew filming a James Fitzpatrick travelogue.
When he learned that they came from Hastings, New Zealand, the chief of the crew said “I’ve heard of that place. There’s a little fishpond out the front, where you can buy the most wonderful icecreams.”
A German visitor to the country called at the icecream garden one day. He had cycled all the way from Napier because he had been told by friends in Damstadt that when he came to New Zealand, he must go to Hastings, because you could buy the best icecream in the world there. The hot and exhausted German youth said he was not disappointed he’d made the effort.
Mr Caulton said no doubt the fame of the product has been carried to many parts of the world by Hastings people.
“I had a phone call one day from a Hastings woman, whose son was an accountant in Switzerland. She wanted to know when we were reopening after the winter, because her son, who was returning home for a holiday, wanted to be sure that Rush Munro’s was open while he was home,” said Mr Caulton.
Mr Caulton, like Mr Rush Munro, will not part with the secret recipes which are used. He will only say fresh dairy products go into the blend – the only icecream in New Zealand which is made that way today.
He remembers his tutor, Mr Rush Munro, equally guarded this secret.
“I remember the phone went one day. It was in the days when the acquisition of a refrigerator was a milestone in people’s lives. This woman rang, told Mr Munro that she had just got a fridge, and would he give her the recipe for making icecream.”
“Mr Munro exploded,” laughed Mr Caulton.
Good old-fashioned spoonful
Another feature of Rush Munro’s icecreams is the way it is served.
Today, like it was done in 1926, the full fruit flavoured icecreams are put into cones with a large tablespoon, creating a characteristic peaked coneful.
“It is quite a skill and some of the staff we have had have had considerable difficulty learning the old-fashioned method,” said Mr Caulton.
Mr Caulton said many people had tried and failed to persuade the Caultons to supply them with icecream.
“I realise it is crying out to be franchised, but we have no intention of doing so. Just the other day I had a letter from the Consul General in New Caledonia asking us to supply him with icecream. The answer was, as always, no.”
The Caultons say they would sell their business – after all they’ve had it for 37 of its 59-year existence – but they are not rushing it.
And how did an ex-RNZAF Spitfire pilot become involved in the icecream business?
“When I came back from the war with my Suffolk bride, I tried to follow in my father’s footsteps and get into the hotel trade. This turned out to be impossible and there was Rush Munro’s and we thought we would try it. We have enjoyed a good living from the business, and have been able to shut down each year to take a break, sometimes to travel overseas. Initially we too, carried on Mr Munro’s tradition of making confectionary but we stopped that 12 years ago. There is a limit to what one can do,” said Mr Caulton.
So the only business premises which are officially listed on the city’s map will continue unchanged in the meantime.
Photo captions –
Rush Munro’s icecream garden circa 1933. The owner and his wife at each side of the entrance.
Rush Munro’s 52 years later with today’s owners, Mr & Mrs J. Caulton.