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The Skill to Survive - Innovators and the Future of Hospitality. Part 1.

Events are not possible at the current alert levels in Auckland and the hospitality industry is facing unprecedented times. In this three-part blog we catch up with some of our friends and explore what it takes to remain viable in the pandemic. Our thanks and aroha to chef/restaurateurs: Ben Bayly, Kyle Street & Peter Gordon.

Part 1: The Ahi Garden Box by Ben Bayly

Ben Bayly at Ahi, Ahi Vege Box
Ben Bayly at Ahi Kitchen Gardens/Tez Mercer/supplied

Chef Ben Bayly and his team at Ahi Restaurant have also found themselves having to adjust their business model in response to Covid-19. They now manage their own patch of Secret Garden, in Patumahoe, South Auckland and with lots of beautiful fresh spring produce now ready for harvest. Originally destined for the restaurant, they have had to work fast to ensure none of the produce goes to waste. This has given rise to the Ahi Garden Box that features their own grown veges, and some main course offerings from the kitchen. Ben has made sure the boxes include products from some of their top Auckland suppliers that have also been hit by the region-wide restaurant closures - companies like Neat Meat, Clevedon Cheese and Curious Croppers Tomatoes. Ben is really proud of the offering:

“This is not mass-produced supermarket stuff, it really is the best that there is. I’m not a perfectionist, but I do strive for excellence and we couldn’t let all this great stuff go to waste. We’ve got some wonderful customers and it’s been great to be able to send them something special from our team – we’re delivering them all over Auckland. Customers get a choice – from our amazing Te Mana Lamb Oyster Shoulder that’s been braised for 12 hours and ready to heat and eat, a vegetarian parmigiana or we’ve just put on some Black Origin Wagyu short rib ready for the BBQ.”

Te Mana Lamb by Ahi Restaurant, Ben Bayly
Ahi at Home Te Mana Lamb/Tez Mercer/supplied

Do you think you will keep this up after lockdown?

“We’ll see, it depends on how much produce we have. It is a necessity right now – we have to put some sales through the till to help cover our overheads – the Wage Subsidy and the Resurgence payments might be ok for our restaurant in Arrowtown which is currently 40-50% down without travelling Aucklanders, but our Auckland restaurant has been 100% down for 7 weeks and the government support is not even close to covering our costs. Restaurants here are losing thousands of dollars every week.”

Euro has gone, Saxon & Parole at Commercial Bay too, many more smaller restaurants. Do you think there will be casualties in the hospitality industry?

“Everyone’s line of credit is different, but it’s been very hard to plan. Communication has been very poor - week to week. It’s very difficult to make good business decisions if we don’t know what is happening and with no light at the end of the tunnel. There are definitely businesses that will not make it through.”

Do you think you will be Ok?

“The corporate world and economy is in good shape and we are a foodie culture in New Zealand - we love going to restaurants and talking about dining out. We have lots of wonderful customers, some really great people. I’m not worried about reopening; I am worried about how long it will take. We’re taking on $15,000 more debt every week and it’s only a matter of time before any business in that position goes bankrupt.”

What would you like to see?

“Realistically we’re having to prepare ourselves for a scenario where we might not open properly until next year. We just can’t take anything for granted anymore. Hospitality, event and tourism businesses really are at the coal face right now – we are doing the heavy lifting and it would be good for the government to give us some recognition – just a few weeks of support that say “we see you.” If this was farmers in a drought, the government would have come running. This is a crisis.”

Anything to look forward to for now?

“Next week we will have our first batch of Clevedon Strawberries. We’re pulling together a Summer dessert kit with meringue and more great produce in the boxes. That and hopefully opening The Grounds in Henderson for kids activities and catered picnics in the next alert level change. And that recognition that we exist and are worth supporting from government.”

Ahi Kitchen Garden, Ahi Vege Box
Ahi Garden Box/Rob Eliott

Editor's note:

We've just taken delivery of our first Ahi Garden Box. It's like Christmas. You could potentially buy these ingredients and products for less... But the excitement around home-baked gluten free sourdough vs a store bought plastic wrapped loaf is, well, incomparable. Yes, they handle dietary requirements even during lockdown (vegetarian, gluten & dairy free is more of an ask than many chefs would bend to, but they did as effortlessly as if we were ordering à la carte). The lasagne was delicious and I'm willing to bet that Mike "The Russian" Satura's Vegan Chocolate Mousse will kick the arse out of anything in the chilled aisle.

And the veges... These aren't veges. Veges are things like identical tomatoes, broccoli two for $5, loathesome silverbeet.... When you open this box you get a smack in the face full of herbaceous succulence that is a far departure from the tall shed at Pak n Save. But to compare this Ahi box with a weekly shop is to miss the point. It's like comparing an "emergency pasta" from the ready made section with a night out at Ben's boundary stretching restaurant.

Go on. Try the box. Not for the economy of it. But because it's great. And we are still going to want "great" after all this Covid nonsense blows over.


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