Man behind Bully Hayes restaurant

Bully Hayes owner Wayne Jones said it will cost between $20,000-$30,000 to rename his restaurant...
Bully Hayes owner Wayne Jones said it will cost between $20,000-$30,000 to rename his restaurant in Akaroa. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Akaroa’s iconic restaurant Bully Hayes will be renamed after almost 25 years, following controversy over claims the name honours slavery. Jess Gibson talks to owner Wayne Jones about his business and the changes ahead.

How did you come to own Bully Hayes?
We bought the business over 17 years ago, but it was started about 24 years ago. It was an old state house on the property and part of it still remains which is built into the building.

Two developers built it and ran it as a restaurant initially. We also bought another business that we renamed and rebranded about 11 years or so ago, L’Escargot Rouge, which we set up as a sister business to Bully Hayes. Me and my wife, we both own the businesses.

How did the restaurant become so popular?
It’s probably because it’s a place that has been here so long. It’s been here nearly 25 years now.

A lot of restaurants come and go over a very short period of time. Bullys has been one of the places that hasn’t. Although it initially went through two or three owners in the first four or five years.

I’ve been here for 17 and a half years nearly, and we’ve sort of built a brand around giving good customer service, looking after people and having good food and a great environment.

What have been some of your best memories so far?
I work pretty much full-time hands-on in the kitchen and on the premises, and for me, the enjoyment is the hospitality.

I enjoy making people happy and talking to people, making sure we’re serving good food and looking after people.

There have been lots of highs and lows we’ve gone through.

We had a fire next door which nearly burnt us down one time. We sort of just got ourselves back on our feet and then we were hit with the first earthquake.

Then we got ourselves on our feet again and we got hit by the second earthquake.

We’ve lived through a lot of trials and tribulations over the years but we’ve always got ourselves through and each time we’ve come back stronger.

My enjoyment comes from people coming in and then always walking out the door saying “thank you very much, we greatly enjoyed it.”

As a restaurant owner that’s probably the greatest gratification, you could ever receive.

Bully Hayes restaurant. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Bully Hayes restaurant. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Why did you feel it was the right time to rebrand your business?
The name change is extremely disappointing for the majority of our followers.

I mean some are very supportive, but the majority are very sorry for us to have to go through this whole situation.

But for us, to move forward, we’ve got to look at this in a positive light and to do that we want to put it out there to try and make it positive and hopefully try and keep everybody happy by giving everybody the input to looking for a new name.

We’re not going to lose our brand, Bully Hayes, as well. That’s very important to us and it’s very important to our locals and our market.

I don’t want it to be seen as a big back down, I do want it to be seen as progress in moving forward and changing the name is probably a very minor part of what we’re going to try and do.

For us, there’s still the brand and what we will do is probably tell more of the story. 

In fact, I’ve been contacted by a number of actual historians and biographers of Bully Hayes, and there’s a lot of literature out there.

Some of the most extensive work, Joan Druett has put out.

I got an email yesterday with a Niuean Government website article about Bully Hayes. It was a very long article and very well written, it actually debunks majority of the things people are saying. The majority of those things are not true.

Joan Druett says in her books a lot of it is myth, there’s nothing confirmed and a lot of it is hearsay. The sources that some of the stuff is coming from are very misleading or not truly accurate.

While it may be out there and people love hearing the dramatised version of things and they like to hear the blood and the gore and everything else, the majority of it is not true.

I think people should be aware of that.

Joan Druett sent a lot of stuff to the media and none of that has been used because people like to hear the dramatised version of things.

When people read it, the ones that were more shocked about it will actually think a little bit more about it – that in fact it isn’t as big a story as it’s all been made out to be.

There are a lot of followers of what’s been happening who have contacted me who are actually very disappointed in the way this has been portrayed.

A number of historians have emailed Wayne Jones with information that debunks academic Scott...
A number of historians have emailed Wayne Jones with information that debunks academic Scott Hamilton's claims about Bully Hayes. Photo: Supplied
What are some of the best names you have received so far?
I’ve had a number which have been based around my name because I’m a public figure that’s here seven days a week (laughs). People have suggested the Jonesy’s, Wayne’s World and there has also been a number of wordplays on the current Bully Hayes.

 

I’ve had a couple of writers ring me and suggest a couple of things like Hully Bayes and Bully Stays, and also there’s been a lot of references to hometown heroes, Frank Worsley has been one of the noted.

Also, there’s been references to the nautical theme and references to the French. There’s been a wide list of names that have been put out there.

We’re gonna put it all together and we’ll put it out to a large group of regulars who are here through the week and see what their preference is.

The strongest suggestion that’s in the box, by the biggest majority, is to keep the name. Also by email and Facebook it’s the strongest.

The Facebook post has created a massive tirade of views from all quarters.

A big chunk of it is about not giving in and a big chunk of it is that Bully Hayes is Bully Hayes.

Regardless, that’s the name they know and the name they recognise, and it’s the name they want to stay.

What will it take to rebrand your restaurant?
Rebranding a restaurant is a massive and very expensive task.

It’s not just coming up with a name, there’s all the design work that comes into putting that name into something visual, then using that visual to create what you’re trying to sell to somebody.

I mean we’ve got a massively branded environment here, so yeah, it’s an extremely expensive exercise.

While we might take the name part of it over initially, it’s going to be gradual, because there’s no way you can physically spend $20-$30,000 in the current environment where we are struggling to survive.

What has business been like after lockdown?
We’re sort of just holding ground. We are probably at about 70 per cent of what we would normally be at this time of year.

That’s our problem, we’re not trading bad enough for subsidies or to get help, and we’re not trading good enough to make money. So it’s a real ‘catch 22’ at the moment.

Wayne Jones on the skifield with his wife Joanna and sons Ben, Sam, and Olly. Photo: Supplied
Wayne Jones on the skifield with his wife Joanna and sons Ben, Sam, and Olly. Photo: Supplied
How long have you lived in Akaroa and what do you like most about living there?
I actually spent a lot of time here as a teenager, I had friends who had baches in Wainui.

Then I moved up to Wellington and I studied hospitality management.

I ended up working in Wellington for 17 to 18 years and travelling overseas working in Europe.

Then I came back to Wellington and worked up there for a couple of years and decided it was time to look at our roots and we sort of looked around places we’d had an association with, and Akaroa really appealed.

It had that nice seaside, quiet small-town (vibe) that we really enjoyed when we worked and lived in France for a couple of years.

So Akaroa was very much the logical place.

We found a business and moved here 17 and a half years ago, and we haven’t moved since.

My wife Joanna and I also wanted to find a nice environment to have our family and bring them up, and Akaroa has really proved to be the perfect place for that.

What do you do when you’re not working?
I have three boys who are all at Boys’ High in Christchurch.

My time off is usually in the winter, and with winter sports I enjoy spending time with the kids and their rugby and sporting endeavours in Christchurch.

That, and skiing with the family. Every year we go away for a week or two and that’s usually my break-away.

Other than that my time is pretty much based around the business. It is very much a hands-on business if you want to be successful and make it work and keep going.

If you could choose three people to have dinner with at your restaurant, who would you choose?
Graham Henry would stand out to be one.

We actually did a rugby club fundraiser dinner last year and he was a guest speaker.

I had a chat with him afterwards and he was a “wealth of knowledge” sort of guy.

Peter Gordon would be one on the food side of it.

His knowledge and creativity in using New Zealand as a sounding block for putting food out around the world - he’s pretty much the one man who’s conquered it in my mind.

And I think Richie McCaw. I’ve had a strong background in rugby, following and playing it through the years.

He’s got the gift that makes him the most likeable guy.

 

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