Small Business: Restaurateurs - Warwick Brown

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Warwick Brown of Buttermilk cafe.
Warwick Brown of Buttermilk cafe.

Warwick Brown, professional chef, food and beverage Consultant at his company, Brioche. Working at a number of Michelin star restaurants overseas after training at AUT, his first restaurant was Oblio's Garden Restaurant in Ponsonby Rd Auckland. He went on to design and own Browns Kitchen, Le Gourmet, Birdcage Tavern, Cin Cin On Quay, Mikano, Anzu, Brioche Cafe and now Buttermilk Cafe in Victoria Park Market.

He has a consultancy business, Professional Cuisine/Brioche and was involved in many large food and beverage projects over the last 20 years including Westpac Bank head office Auckland and ASB head office, North Wharf.

Brown is looking for other sites that he can develop into modern cafes, plus a nice space for a new food store concept offering a mixture of NZ fresh produce with imported items that can't be produced here in New Zealand.

What made you go into the cafe industry after being a restaurateur?

After spending all of my life in restaurants here in Auckland,and after selling Mikano, I wanted to get into a market that at the time I could see becoming a stable part of NZ life. Cafes have now changed for the better since those early days. They are now serving modern fresh seasonal produce with menus that are often better than restaurants.
With great kitchen design, chefs don't need to feel that they have left that arena behind.

Today it's all about cafes. Brioche Cafe, now sold, which was in the new Lumley Building in Shortland St and Buttermilk Cafe in Victoria Park Market, a modern warehouse space seating 65 serving fresh modern cafe food with the offering of fresh pressed juices and seasonal produce.

What differences are there with cafes compared with restaurants?

Training of staff remains the same but with cafes the service can be more relaxed.
The kitchen, in terms of professionalism should still be the same - well it is with me - but the menu offering is very much more relaxed. In saying that it's all about fresh seasonal food, cooked with passion and often sold at a price that will attract customers two or three times a week.

Free water, magazines, music, high chairs, relaxed decor, outdoor seating, the menu, as well as grab and go offerings, all make up the profile of a great cafe.

Table service these days has taken over from lining up at the till to being served. Most of the great cafes here in Auckland only offer table service.

Do you agree, it's not the first year, but the second and third years which are most difficult for new restaurant/cafe businesses?

That's a difficult one. If you manage to get lots of press in that first year and use that to build on for the next two years, I would say for me the first year is the player here and that is why I work hard to get my cafe name out, using all the new forms of media that are on offer today.

What are the challenges of a new young business in hospitality?

Getting profile and press but first of all you need to have the offering in place.
Being under-capitalised often puts owners under pressure.

It is also becoming more difficult to get trained staff which has been an issue for many years.

Also overbuilding, overexpanding to be able to make a good turnover.

What are the common mistakes you see cafe owners making?

Copying ideas that they have no idea or passion about.

Seeing a food and beverage offering overseas in a large city thinking it will succeed here in Auckland.

Doing poor fit-outs, poor kitchen fit outs, poor bar fit outs and not providing the correct tools for the workers to perform the tasks needed to make the store a success.

Being cash poor.

Bluffing the customers with false menu descriptions and saying they are serving one product when in fact it is a cheaper option.

Without naming other operators I have learnt to buy the best produce and charge the customers accordingly. New Zealanders are ready for great offerings, their taste buds are changing and they are starting to know the difference between cheap and good produce.

How should restaurant and cafe owners use social media to stay in touch with customers?

It's 2013. It's a must. Use it all - get a professional to look after all your media requirements, do all the postings live for you and have a great website even if you are a cafe. Post live photos of all your kitchen staff cooking, show off your produce.

Do you see many restaurant hubs working well in Auckland at the moment?

I remember when I had Anzu in the Viaduct Auckland it was the only place. Fifteen years on look what we now have in Auckland. I think all these new areas are fantastic but as I have always said we have a great pool of talented people here in Auckland but sadly we don't have enough people to make them all happy.

Looking at what is on offer overseas I think the overall layout and design in these areas could be better delivered.

Once all the other stores get leased and fitted out, Victoria Park Market will eventually become a destination for locals which in turn will attract the tourist market.


Next week: Note that I'm writing this on the morning of race 12 and 13 of the America's Cup and we have just lost both of them but I am confident we will win the next race or the one after that so I am planning to look at the NZ marine industry next week and some of the small businesses who will benefit from our Americas Cup win. Tell us what your hopes are for new business after this victory and what it has done to the reputation of the marine industry here.

- NZ Herald

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