Stars aligned for new owners of the Criterion Hotel

Katrina McLarin (left) and Brenda Laverick are excited about taking over the lease of Oamaru's...
Katrina McLarin (left) and Brenda Laverick are excited about taking over the lease of Oamaru's Criterion Hotel. PHOTO: KAYLA HODGE
They were there when it last closed and will be there for the reopening - only on the other side of the bar.

When the Criterion Hotel, Bar and Eatery opens again, Katrina McLarin and Brenda Laverick are going to be behind the bar as the owners of the new establishment.

The women, who opened the Casa Nova accommodation business in Oamaru early last year, have now entered into a lease with the Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust to open up the Criterion again.

The Criterion closed in January this year when previous lease-holders Herbert and Marise Martin moved on, leaving the 145-year-old building empty.

In something of a coincidence, the new lease-holders were actually in the Criterion having a drink on the last day of the Martins’ tenancy.

"On that last day we were there having a nice drink, talking to the owners, Marise and Herb, and looking around and seeing what a great place it was," Ms McLarin said.

"We talked about it with a friend who had a background in running pubs and said it was for sale and how about I could be a silent partner - just joking, as though I could be silent.

"But she decided it was not for her. Then we looked at it more and the more we looked into it the more things started to stack up. The stars sort of aligned."

Perhaps you could call it fate they had been in the hotel on the last day but they were excited to get the business up and going again, Ms McLarin said.

"We are really hoping to get it back up and open by the end of July or into early August."

A new commercial kitchen was going to be fitted as the emphasis would be on food and giving diners a good experience.

"Unfortunately the days of the corner bar and just having a drink have been left behind 20 years ago. People want to have a nice lunch and dinner and that is what we intend to do."

She said a new commercial kitchen, costing upwards of $100,000 to fit, showed the commitment they had to the new venture.

The business wanted to open on the five most viable days a week but was realistic about getting staff to run the business.

"We know there is shortages of staff around and it is hard to get a chef. I just learnt this week we have a shortage of Gib right around the country so we are being careful in bringing the board down."

Opening the Casa Nova business in a pandemic meant they had not experienced running a business in Oamaru when the borders were open and were looking forward to serving both domestic and international diners.

There were 14 rooms upstairs in the building but Ms McLarin said they did not have individual bathrooms.

In Covid-19 times sharing a bathroom was not an option so any move to open the accommodation was a long-term project.

The couple had received plenty of support from the Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust and the Waitaki District Council.

Trust chairman Graeme Clark said the trust was thrilled with the new plans for the Criterion.

"It is great to see the Criterion open its doors again and we wish Katrina and Brenda all the best. We have always considered the Criterion the jewel in the crown in the Victorian precinct."

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