What's cooking in Whangarei?
Northland’s economy is steaming ahead. According to ASB’s Regional Economic Scoreboard, Northland’s was the second strongest economy in the country in the first three months of this year. This can largely be attributed to the region’s tourism boom, which was very much in evidence when the Lions came to town recently.
Two local businesses that are ‘Backed by BDO’ are catering to the growing appetites of Northland. One of these businesses has raised the bar for Northland cuisine……..the other literally built the bar.
If Lloyd Rooney’s career were a type of cuisine, it would have to be ‘fusion’. The British-born restaurateur originally trained as a lawyer and went on to own a gastropub as well as a successful interior design business in London.
Having met Kiwi partner Mike Fraser in London, the pair returned to New Zealand in 2006 and proceeded to buy a 2,200 hectare working farm, Highgate Hill. For Rooney, a self-confessed “farming novice,” this new bucolic lifestyle was quite a challenge as he turned his hand to shearing and home kill. However, when the opportunity arose to buy iconic Waipu restaurant, The Cove, he couldn’t resist.
They have gone on to open three restaurants in as many years, adding The Quay in Whangarei Town Basin and The Dune at Mangawhai Heads to their portfolio, with menus devised by their Executive Chef, Craig Estick. At time of writing, they are in the process of fitting out their latest venture, 8, an Asian fusion restaurant in the Town Basin. They also run The Vege Shack, which supplies fresh organic hydroponic grown produce to restaurants, including their own.
With so much already on his plate, why take on another restaurant?
Rooney laughingly confesses that he is unable to window shop. “I literally think I’ll just go and have a sneaky peak, and before I know it, I’ve signed the lease.”
With 8, there was also a real desire to maintain quality and the upwards trajectory of the area.
“The Town Basin has to be the premier place for dining in Whangarei. We wanted to avoid someone coming in who wasn’t a good operator – we didn’t want some tavern with pokies.”
It also comes down to Rooney’s love of Northland.
“Northland really is underrated. It has pristine beaches and it’s growing all the time, plus the area has a great sense of community. We thought that Whangarei was ready to rock and roll and Asian fusion is the direct opposite of what we do at our other restaurants. We wanted to give the people of Whangarei a real choice of dining experience.”
When they were looking to engage a Northland accountant, BDO was a natural choice, according to Rooney.
“BDO’s advice is second to none, and just as importantly, they work with lots of local businesses so we can benchmark how we are performing.”
So, are there any plans to open more restaurants in the near future? The question elicits an emphatic “No!” from Rooney.
I’m not sure I believe him.
The company helping to make Lloyd and Mike’s vision for the Town Basin a reality is Whangarei-based kitchen and joinery firm, Guyco. They were tasked with doing the stunning fit out for the Quay within a very tight six week turnaround. Having risen to that particular challenge, for new restaurant, 8, that deadline has gone down to three weeks!
In Lloyd’s words, “Guyco has a strong reputation for doing good fit outs. What you get is a quality-driven product, well put together and well thought out in terms of the fit out working with the space and what you want to achieve with it.”
Guyco’s history in Whangarei goes back over 60 years but the company has certainly moved with the times, investing in state of the art equipment and staying ahead of design trends. Their kitchen designer attended the global kitchen expo, Eurocucina, in Milan recently.
Whangarei-born Managing Directors, David Brinn and Peter Dainty, ran the company for several years before becoming the owners in 2014. Peter has known Scott Kennedy of BDO Northland for a long time and had him on speed dial when the opportunity to buy the business came up. Peter ‘sold’ BDO to business partner, David, by describing how “Scott never makes you feel that any question you ask is dumb, and he doesn’t bamboozle you like other accountants…he and the team are accessible and provide quick responses when you need them…you are more than just a number to them.”
Guyco specialises in true craftsmanship. In David’s words, “everything is bespoke.” The upturn in the New Zealand economy has seen a change in emphasis from commercial work to private commissions. The company has also created a niche working on high end private houses. These ‘super houses’ can take up to two years to complete, occupy half their crew and they generally have one on the go at any time.
So how has a Whangarei firm cornered this market and gained a client base that reaches across most of the North Island?
David explains, “We can offer the whole nine yards – you can get the kitchen, stairs and windows done here. We might compete against other firms for kitchens but the furniture and structures not so much. You also need the facilities to build the structures and not many other companies have that.” Those facilities are currently housing an enormous wooden spherical structure destined for a private house. The company also has to deal with the logistics of transporting their creations. When they had to transport wooden chrysalis sculptures destined for an Auckland childcare centre in an open top trailer, it involved checking the weather forecast first. This project went on to win an architectural award.
Most of Guyco’s business is via word of mouth – they have a lot of repeat customers and trusted relationships with builders they’ve been working with for 20 years.
However, the real key to the company’s success is their team – 24 people at last count.
As Peter notes, “To get to the design stage it’s a long road – longer than to build a kitchen. That involves a series of systems to get the quality and a big team. The secret is the people around us – we can’t do this on our own.”
And the future for Guyco?
“We’ve only just begun.”