It was 1975 when Gordon Pollock, who owned Barker & Pollock fabric shops, lent me the money to buy Antoine's from my partner. That changed my whole life.
When we'd opened in 1973 I was a 10 per cent shareholder. I'd put my money in and I'd had to save and save to get together $10,000, which was a huge amount of money.
The partnership didn't work very well. My partner and his wife ran the front and I ran the back and did the cooking. My wife, Beth, did the dishes.
Before Antoine's opened there were Bob Sell's funny restaurants - like the Hungry Horse and La Boheme - and Michael's Caprice on the North Shore, which was the big restaurant. We used to come up from Wellington to go there because it was the hottest restaurant in the country.
The Hotel Intercontinental had opened at the same time. Its waiters wore tails and white gloves, so we decided Auckland was ready for us. Our accountants said we were too expensive, when the dearest main course was $5.95, French onion soup was $1 and we had a $10 minimum, but Antoine's was a huge success instantly.
It was very hard work and then the partnership started falling to bits because the front-of-house people didn't like customers that much. At 9 o'clock he used to clap his hands and say, "Time to go, folks."
This didn't go down well with my good customers Gordon Pollock, who came very Friday night, and Eb Leary, QC; and other members of the dining-out public. We were hugely popular with them because they didn't have to go over the bridge to Michael's Caprice. And they didn't want to go home at 9.30 on Friday.
In the end my partner would go home and I would stay because I'm someone who likes to party too. I got very friendly with these people who soon realised there was huge tension in the partnership.
One afternoon Gordon Pollock rang and said, "Young boy, if you can be in my office at 4 o'clock you will own a restaurant. We will offer him $70,000."
That was a huge amount. Our rent was only $22 a week. I spoke to Beth and she said just do what you can do. I told myself I was only 22 and if it went broke who cares, I could start again. So we did it. I got a cheque from Gordon, came back to the restaurant and gave it to my partner and said: "You have to be out by 6 o'clock."
At the same time, if that didn't work out, Pollock had found a place in St Heliers that he decided he would buy, call it The Auberge and give it to me. And my partner would be left with a restaurant and no chef. At half past five he rang back and said: "You own a restaurant."
That was a bit of a worry because there was no one to run the front of house. Beth was suddenly the hostess. In those days, we used to have five in the kitchen and seven waiters and sat 50 people. That's how busy it was. And having had no idea about anything, I suddenly became extremely pretentious and we got menus made in French, with English subtitles. We had three women who wore long dresses. We didn't have the gloves like the Intercontinental, but the men wore tails, it was completely un-Auckland.
And it worked. We paid Gordon back much faster than any of us expected.