Award-winning restaurant goes into voluntary liquidation

An award-winning Westport restaurant has gone into voluntary liquidation owing more than $100,000.

Seven full-time and part-time staff at Porto Bello Bar & Grill have lost their jobs.

Porto Bello opened a decade ago after John and Margaret Hill gutted the rundown former Royal Hotel and transformed it into a modern restaurant/bar. It subsequently won a Hospitality Association award for the best redeveloped bar/restaurant in New Zealand.

Mr Hill, who now lives in Nelson, said he was sad about the closure.

"I sort of had this dream of building something that was going to be reasonably iconic-- I feel sad for the owner too."

The Hills sold the business about four years ago to their son Martin and Mr Couchman. Mr Couchman later became the sole owner.

Joint liquidator Garry Whimp, of Auckland chartered accountants Rodgers Reidy, said the business owed the Inland Revenue Department about $80,000 and trade creditors around $30,000.

Owner Buck Couchman hadn't been drawing any wages and had been putting his own money in to try and keep it afloat.

Unable to see any improvement, and facing continuing penalties from IRD, Mr Couchman had called in the liquidators, Mr Whimp said.

Mr Whimp hoped the business could be sold, so most creditors could be paid, but said IRD would be first in line.

"Given that they are sitting there at about $80,000, it might be fairly bold to say unsecured creditors will all get paid."

There had been potential buyers in line before liquidation.

The liquidators were obtaining values of the building and chattels for their first report, due out in the next few days. Mr The business had been struggling since early this year. Its closure reflected Buller's economic downturn.

"We find this a lot in what we do, good operators really can't beat the market. You can be a very good operator and do a lot of things right. But unless you're prepared to sit there and continue adding capital to the business, and paying everybody else before you pay yourself, it becomes very difficult."

Mr Couchman could not be reached for comment.

Creditors have until October 17 to make their claims.

By Lee Scanlon of the Westport News

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