Home' Hospitality Business : HB APL 2017 Contents different then - only two food outlets and the rest retail. I remember
hear ing them all say in the first tenants’ meeting, ’Oh, we only want the
top 10 percent of tour ists to come to The Steamer Wharf ”. Three years
later Boardwalk was the only surviving or iginal tenant.
Grant and our staff worked extremely hard and we sourced our
seafood from all over New Zealand and the Pacific. Our food cost was
high, but the quality was astonishing and Grant and his kitchen team
produced dishes that were ranking us in the top of the country.
We knew then Amer ican President Bill Clinton was coming to town
and about two weeks before he was due we got a booking from the Air
New Zealand chief executive, but didn’t think anything of it. For the
next two weeks we had the odd broad-shouldered secur ity guy with a
crew cut come in for lunch, but they just said they were checking out
the town’s secur ity.
On the night Bill Clinton dined with us, we received a phone call
one hour in advance letting us know he was coming.We closed off all
bookings, but still had about 70 people in the restaurant when he arrived.
There were a couple of tables, including some Japanese, who’d finished
and were going to leave, but I convinced them to stay and shouted them
dessert so that they were there when the entourage ar rived.
When Clinton arr ived he went to each table and apologised for the
fact that secur ity was there. One guy, an Aussie, was in the loo when
he ar rived, so didn’t get to meet Clinton. I said, ‘Don’t worry I’ll fix
it’. During the evening I saw Clinton get up and start to go to the
washroom. I quickly signalled to the Aussie to get to the loo first. Clinton
went in and Secret Service guys stood outside guarding, but the Aussie
guy was already inside. He never told me whether he got to shake hands.
A friend had rung to congratulate me on the Clinton booking
dur ing the evening and asked what Chelsea was like. My reply infer red
she was a bit of alright. I didn’t think anything about it until I went out
the back to my office. There, sitting with headphones on and listening
to all calls, was a secret service guy who looked at me and just shook
HOW HAVE YOU MANAGED TO JUGGLE OWNING
SEVERAL RESTAURANTS AT ONCE SUCCESSFULLY?
I’ve always been blessed with having
the most amazing staff who’ve allowed
me the opportunities to have more
than one restaurant, and I always like
to have up-coming staff buy in as
partners. I see my role as just gently
guiding them away from making the
major mistakes that I’ve made.
WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE ARE THE
KEY INGREDIENTS TO A GREAT
RESTAURANT BUSINESS RECIPE?
Great staff, good location, great product,
and a shared belief in our abilities.
YOU’LL HAVE SEEN MANY
RESTAURANTS AND BARS OPEN
AND CLOSE DURING YOUR 30
YEARS IN QUEENSTOWN – PEAKS
AND TROUGHS. IS QUEENSTOWN
A TOUGH PLACE TO DO
BUSINESS, AND, IF SO, WHY?
Queenstown is tough and always
has been, though the challenges
are changing. In the past we had
seasonality, access to fresh produce,
changing tour ism patterns and
clientele. These days the biggest issues
are staff shortages, changing liquor
licensing, staff housing shortages, and,
of course, increased competition.
WHAT’S HAPPENING WITH HAMILLS, WHICH
YOU’VE OWNED FOR 12 YEARS?
My staff are taking over the running of Hamills. My head chef Matt
Crimp used to work for us for years when we first opened. He went to
Aussie and worked hard, ending up as head chef in a big operation in
Perth, and is now back with his partner and 2-year-old daughter. The
lovely Oceane Duteil, who’s been with us five years, gets her chance at
running a restaurant. Her parents own a restaurant in France so she is
more than capable and is supported by other long ter m staff.
WHY ARE YOU LEAVING QUEENSTOWN?
Yasuko and I are moving to Nelson for a change of scene and to set up
our new restaurant Char Bar and Grill, with long-ter m staff from our
Styx operation, head chef Tony Carlin and his fiancée Katie Hunt.Yassy
will be restaurant manager and I’ll be trying to take more of a back seat
looking after the books of all three restaurants and handling the “back
issues”, so the partners can concentrate on running the restaurants.
I’ll continue to try and help the Restaurant Association of NZ on
immigration issues, but I want to spend some time fishing as well.
WHERE DO YOU SEE THE RESTAURANT INDUSTRY HEADING
NATIONALLY? WHO WILL SURVIVE AND WHO WON’T?
Interesting times for restaurants. We’re seeing the growth of smaller
multi-unit operators. Queenstown, in particular, has quite a few of
those. Food trucks seem to be a great means of bypassing some of the
hideously expensive set-up costs and allowing operators flexibility.
HOW HAS THE INDUSTRY CHANGED IN THE PAST 30 YEARS
- THE WAY WE DINE, THE ENTERTAINMENT ASPECT,
WHAT PEOPLE EXPECT FROM A NIGHT OUT NOW?
We’re seeing a gradual move away from the finer dining aspects, with very
few fine dining exper iences available anymore. I believe it’s a good thing,
but I’m an Aussie.The r ise of the TV cooking shows and Food Channel
is a problem for restaurateurs. Everyone is a cr itic these days, which is a
double edged sword.When I first came to New Zealand 40 years ago
there was only European and Chinese cuisine. Now it’s global food.
THERE ARE MOVES AFOOT
TO INTRODUCE A BED TAX OR
TOURISM TAX IN AUCKLAND,
AND IT’S A SUBJECT THAT
REGULARLY GETS AN AIRING
IN QUEENSTOWN. WHAT
ARE YOUR THOUGHTS?
I’ve always been an advocate for bed
tax or some other revenue raising
system. Queenstown’s ratepayer base
can’t hope to keep up with demands
on its infrastructure, be it wastewater,
water supply or roading, without
a massive injection of money from
somewhere. We’re lucky that we own
the airport and receive some dividends
from that, but there’s a need for
something else. I drove up the West
Coast recently from Queenstown to
Nelson. There were so many tour ists,
and operators all said they were
having the same problems. Hokitika
was absolutely heaving, but their
infrastructure is having problems, and
staffing issues are extreme.
We will get through this but I’d
love to see some creative long-ter m
thinking and planning instead of
knee jerk reactions to problems as
they ar ise. n
“To help get Kiwis along we’d host
lunches for primary and high school
students from all around the lower
South Island. We’d give them lunch
and a talk about Japanese food and
customs, and then tell their parents
that the food wasn’t that scary and
that raw fish was pretty nice.”
Tony Robertson enjoys a
fond farewell beer at his
Hamills, before moving
North to Nelson.
Hospitality BUSINESS | April 2017 | 37
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