Providing 'great food with a twist' paying off

Anna Arndt dishes out fish and chips from a caravan in Queenstown. Photo: Supplied
Anna Arndt dishes out fish and chips from a caravan in Queenstown. Photo: Supplied
Deep-fried cauliflower anyone?

Erik's Fish and Chips, which opened nearly four years ago in Queenstown and is also in Wanaka, focuses on offering ''great food with a twist''. And twists don't get much more different than battered brassica, or even deep-fried kiwifruit.

But that focus was obviously paying off for the business which, within the past year, won a local Westpac Business of the Year award; it also won two hospitality awards for excellence in marketing and the people's choice award in the 2018 Hospitality New Zealand awards for excellence - the first chippy to win either award.

Running a business in two of the South's tourist hot spots was a far cry from farming in the rural King Country; but owners Erik and Anna Arndt have successfully made the transition, albeit with a twist along the way.

Mr and Mrs Arndt spent the first 15 years of their married life farming. With a desire to add value to the beef and lamb leaving their farm gate, they established Aria Farm in 1997, producing the likes of beef, lamb and chicken chips.

The company went from a startup to a Hamilton-based business with a turnover which peaked at $3million. It was later sold to Anzco Foods.

Later, when living in Christchurch, the couple became keen to move to Queenstown as they had three adult children living in the area and they also loved to ski.

Mrs Arndt started researching franchise businesses and possibilities in the resort and realised franchises did not work particularly well in Queenstown, mostly because of the high rents.

It was their eldest daughter who mentioned that people were always asking where they could get fish and chips in the centre of town and they decided such a venture was a good idea.

It was ''nigh impossible'' to find space to start a business so they decided to use a trailer on some available land, thinking if the business did not work it would not be such a huge set-up cost. It now operated from fixed locations in both Queenstown and Wanaka.

Asked the secret to the business' success, Mrs Arndt said ''hard work'' and they practised a business philosophy of continued improvement and lean manufacturing.

''We work as a team to constantly improve how we do things to better the customer experience and ensure we're as efficient as possible.

''We meet with staff weekly and have regular team meetings where we encourage and value contributions on how we can run the business more effectively,'' she said.

And it was not about making big changes to the business, but little changes constantly and that came from the contributions of all staff members.

Business coaching had also been beneficial.

A big point of difference was all Erik's products were gluten-free; it was certified by the New Zealand Coeliac Society and it was a ''lovely thing'' to be able to serve those with gluten intolerance, Mrs Arndt said.

One of the couple's core values was to enjoy the lifestyle of the area and that extended to their staff, which numbered about 10 full-time; staff rosters worked around that lifestyle, such as skiing, and there was a bonus system that included such things as an overnight Doubtful Sounds cruise as a reward after a busy season.

Mrs Arndt said it was ''fun to change'' - ''it's exciting to do totally different things in your life.''

And speaking of totally different, deep-fried cauliflower was apparently ''to die for'' and very popular with customers, while deep-fried kiwifruit was ''something iconically New Zealand''.

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