New owners have bold plans for hospitality

Fort Enfield Tavern owners Johnny and Amber Rogers. Photos: Daniel Birchfield
Fort Enfield Tavern owners Johnny and Amber Rogers. Photos: Daniel Birchfield
The local. The watering hole. Whatever you want to call it, the pub or pub slash restaurant down the road has long been a gathering point for people in Oamaru and around the Waitaki district.

Three such establishments in North Otago are in the hands of new owners, who have big plans for them. Daniel Birchfield found out more.

Some may consider Friday the 13th unlucky — but not Fort Enfield Tavern owners Johnny and Amber Rogers.

The couple took ownership of the establishment on April 13 and, after several weeks, are getting used to the idea of running their own pub for the first time.

Mr Rogers spent 20 years in the army as a chef until 2011, while Mrs Rogers, originally from Wanaka, has worked in the hospitality industry for several years both in New Zealand and overseas.

Mr Rogers said it was a desire to work for themselves that attracted them to Enfield.

"We just always thought we could do it. It’s the old adage — if you don’t try it, you’ll regret it."

His wife agreed with the sentiment.

"If someone had bought it and turned it into half of what we want to do to it, it would have annoyed us. So we thought we would give it a go."

The couple have introduced a weekend lunch menu and have plans to spruce up the inside of the building and would like to create a garden bar-style area outside, utilising part of the pub’s car park.

That would also include bike racks for people that stopped in while riding the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail.

New owner of Oamaru restaurant The Last Post, Trevor Griggs.
New owner of Oamaru restaurant The Last Post, Trevor Griggs.
"I’ve figured out I’m a bit of a perfectionist," Mrs Rogers said.

"I’ve pictured how I would run it and we get to do that now."

Mrs Rogers believed tapping in to the success of the cycle trial that passes by the pub’s front door would play an important part in the fortune of their venture.

"We see an opportunity in the Alps 2 Ocean, so we are converting the bottle store at the front into a cafe that will have coffee, cabinet food and cold drinks — things like that."

Mr Rogers said looking after the locals would be the heart of the pub’s business plan.

"It’s important that we see our primary business as serving the locals. We wouldn’t survive on just selling alcohol so we also want to have good meals coming out of the kitchen."

OF all the places in New Zealand trained chef Trevor Griggs could pick from when he decided to return to his home country, Oamaru was the winner.

He took ownership of The Last Post pub and restaurant about a week ago and is preparing the lower Thames St establishment for a late-May reopening.

Mr Griggs trained as a chef in Christchurch in the late 1980s, before a stint in Australia.

The Duntroon Hotel is undergoing significant renovations.
The Duntroon Hotel is undergoing significant renovations.
He returned to New Zealand in 1999 and worked as executive chief at the Stamford Plaza in Auckland, before he opened his own restaurant, Mangetout, in 2000, then Paramount, also in Auckland.

After further stints in the UK, Australia and China, including six years as general manager of hotels in the Asian nation, he decided the time was right to return home.

"When I got back here I didn’t want to go back into hotels. I thought I would go back into business for myself and having had a couple of restaurants in the past, I thought ‘I’ve got enough energy left in me to do it.

"I have had fine dining restaurants in the past — I don’t want to make this a fine dining venue. It’s going to be like that pub-restaurant atmosphere, but with that quality food.  I just want to cater for what people here want."

As far as the cosmetic side of things was concerned, he said the changes would be subtle.However, the covered outdoor area would be the focus of a revamp.

"What I would like to do out there ... this year I hope to rethink the whole roofing concept out there and perhaps the flooring, as well. It’s a nice area. I’d like to have a retractable roof, but it’s all a cost. That’s the plan. Once I’ve been here for a while, I’ll have a better idea."

He considered it important to keep the character of the historic building, Oamaru’s first post office, which was opened in 1863.Mr Griggs was confident he would continue to build on the restaurant’s reputation.

"It had got to a point and was doing really, really well. For me, it’s just taking it that one little step further."

It may not look like much at the moment, but down the line the Duntroon Hotel will be as grand as it once was.

That’s the goal Brent Murdoch and his business partner Ken Urquhart have for the historic building.

The pair have owned the building since August 2017. It was closed in December 2016 by the Waitaki District Council, as a result of concerns about it being used for accommodation without an appropriate fire alarm system.

Mr Murdoch, who resides in Christchurch, said it was Mr Urquhart, a high country farmer near Twizel, who first approached him about buying the hotel.

"He could see a huge need for accommodation for the (Alps 2 Ocean) cycle trail. He put it to me that we do it and I sort of said in my mind ‘no bloody way’. But I did him the courtesy of having a look and I just fell in love with it. I expected to have times of regret, but I just haven’t."

The ground floor of the building is being gutted and once complete, will feature a public bar area, cafe and restaurant.

Mr Murdoch said that would cater for three areas of custom — locals, people passing through Duntroon on State Highway 83 and those riding the cycle trail.

The plan was to convert the hotel’s upstairs level from the current 11 bedrooms, with a communal bathroom, to nine bedrooms with their own en suites.

When opened, it would fill a gap that had been missing in Duntroon for a long time.

"There is absolutely nothing in Duntroon ... but it’s not going to be that way for long. We don’t have to have to be open at a certain time ... we want to, but we don’t have to be."

He said ultimately, the project was about returning the hotel, believed to have been constructed in the mid-1860s or early 1880s, to its former standing.

"It’s a kind of a second coming ... going back to what it was doing 120 years ago."  

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