Natalie Akoorie

Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Restaurant owner adds another space to his fast-growing empire

John Lawrenson. Photo / Christine Cornege
John Lawrenson. Photo / Christine Cornege

John Lawrenson has big plans for a building about to be vacated by high-end Hamilton restaurant Palate.

Mr Lawrenson, chief executive of the Lawrenson Group, already owns a dozen bars and restaurants in the city including the Bank, the Outback, Furnace, Shenanigans, Victoria St Bistro and Bar 101.

He jumped at the chance to take over the lease on the Palate premises after chef and owner Mat Mclean moved his restaurant to another prime spot.

Palate was next door to the group's cocktail bar Easy Tiger at the southern end of Victoria St, so was perfect to expand into Mr Lawrenson said.

He is tossing up some ideas - an expansion into the front part of Palate, opening a sister bar to Easy Tiger, re-using the site as a restaurant or creating a boutique function room.

The 33-year-old was talking to the owner of another city restaurant who had shown interest in moving into the site.

"It's a good location to do anything in because of where it is and because of the bars that are neighbouring it."

The idea for a small function venue was borne out of demand, Mr Lawrenson said.

"We're getting a lot of requests for functions, wedding receptions and corporate groups. We're looking at a really high-end function room catered by Victoria St Bistro."

The third option was for another bar to complement Easy Tiger.

"We want something next door that's maybe a little more ragey for the 30-plus crowd. Good old retro music and somewhere for people to go after they've finished up at Keystone."

Mr Lawrenson was confident his move into the site would be successful.

Now it's just a case of picking the best option. Construction of the Easy Tiger extension would begin in about 10 days.

Meanwhile, the Lawrenson Group had recently taken over the Pattaya Noodle House, next door to Shenanigans which Mr Lawrenson co-owns with All Black stars Richard Kahui and Stephen Donald. The trio planned to expand the Irish bar into the vacant noodle house.

Mr Lawrenson's growing stronghold on the hospitality precinct in the city, where he also owns the Belgium Beer Cafe, Amigos Mexican Restaurant, the Hood and the Helm, has motivated him to trademark the name the Southend and register an internet domain name.

However, he remained coy on his plans for the domain name.

- NZ Herald

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