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van King’s management philosophy is simple and effective: “Our
culture is different than most places,” he says. “I believe in creating
a fun environment and I hire on personality.Those without
exper ience don’t have bad habits and skills can be taught.
“I pay more than the minimum wage, treat people the way I like to be
treated, and if they’ve got potential I encourage them to make hospitality
a career. It’s about treating your staff right and that builds a great team.
They look after me on a daily basis and it’s great to give it back to them.
It’s great too when they know that their boss respects them.”
Evan’s own hospitality career began when he ar r ived in London from
New Zealand 23 years ago and lear nt the ropes there in front of house
and bar. His career choice then took him round the world – opening
and running bars and restaurants for others in Canada, New York,
Miami, then back to Vancouver to finally open his own venue.
Around 8 years ago he came home and in 2007 bought The Mustang
Saloon & Grill in Newmarket. He descr ibes it is as “dirty drinking hole”
but it was a means to an end. It was on a great corner site, at Khyber
Pass and Broadway overlooking a small park (named The Lumsden
Green, hence the cur rent name), and it did the volume he needed. He
worked out the brewery contract as quickly as he could and the day
it expired he started transfor ming the place into more his style of bar,
getting into the craft beer market just prior to it going ballistic.
The Lumsden has one of the largest craft beer selections in Auckland,
stocking 15 taps of local brews, 150 different bottles and cans and as
soon as one keg is gone, it’s replaced with a different one. Evan says
he loves freedom from brewery influence but it does come at a price,
“It hurts us a bit with no rebates and craft beer is pricier, but I’m
passionate about artisan products and the people involved.”
The food offer ing is explained by the tagline: “We don’t serve fast
food, we serve quality food as fast as we can”, and includes burgers, pizzas
and platters; small, share and large plates; salads, desserts plus a kids menu.
Last winter The Lumsden tur ned three and running smoothly, Evan
wanted another challenge and he found it in Mangawhai just over an
hour’s drive north of Auckland. Having a coffee at the “The Heads”
shopping centre in the middle of September, he saw a For Sale sign in
the Sail Rock Café window. Two weeks later he’d bought the place and
The Wood Street Freehouse opened in time for the eager and cur ious
Labour Weekend crowds.
“It was the fastest tur naround I’ve ever done, and with virtually no
sleep, “It was three weeks of sheer craziness.” Life was still pretty frantic
when the doors opened too, “On the first night a ton of locals came by
and really embraced the place. We were packed out – it was insane. We
kept having to unpack more glasses.”
Run on similar lines to its Newmarket sibling,Wood Street
Freehouse, with seating for 120, offers 40 different craft bottles and
seven taps, with plans for more next summer, “We only buy two kegs
of the same beer at one time, and if they’re popular we’ll revisit them.
We offer non-craft brews by the bottle too – it’s easy to become a beer
snob doing what we do, so we keep that in mind.” Local wines and
produce are similarly revered at Wood Street.
Searching for a chef for the venue, Evan’s online ad read, ‘Position in
Paradise, be part of a new concept’ which caught the attention of Chef
Jon Kar i. Originally from Minneapolis, and a Maths and Classics major
as well as a trained chef, Jon had been in the industry for 20 years and
was executive chef at an exclusive lodge in the Marlborough Sounds
when he sent his quirky CV to Evan, which went down well.
“Looking for a new challenge to further his career, Jon flew up for
the weekend and immediately joined the team when he saw what we
were doing and what our philosophy was, resigning when he went back
down south, after giving more than ample notice. His sous chef at the
time, Jamie Rafferty said he only wanted to work for Jon so we hired
him as well when his contract was up. Now we’ve got two great chefs.”
The menu was an Evan/Jon collaboration. Although not for mally
trained, Evan has done his time in kitchens and loves to cook, “We
started with a scatter gun approach of everything we love, then
considered what the locals might like and edited further from there.
The Lumsden, Newmarket: a fantastic site for a great concept.
“No one has seen this kind of busy in Mangawhai before; over summer
we were averaging 450 covers each and every day.”
Evan King, owner Wood Street Freehouse, Mangawhai and the Lumsden Freehouse,
Newmarket and partner in the BBC Brewing Company.
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