He started frying chips at Baypark Speedway and now Mount Maunganui man Luke van Veen owns two hospitality businesses in the Bay of Plenty.
The fresh-faced 29-year-old opened Papa Mo's in Pāpāmoa in 2015 and has now partnered with Lisa Kerr to open his second on the other side of town.
Frosty & Fox - co-owned by Kerr and van Veen - will officially open today in downtown Mount Maunganui.
Both Papa Mo's and Frosty & Fox were worth about $1.7 million and employ about 40 to 50 people between them.
Where it all began
As a teenager, van Veen said he had dreamed of owning his own bar.
He said his first job was working at Baypark Speedway frying chips at age 14 or 15. Once at university in Hamilton, van Veen soon found himself working in the pub scene.
"I started as a bartender and had a few dishy shifts and just learned the ropes. I was really lucky to work with really good people.
"When I actually got into hospo, I really did enjoy it and it became more of a reality that I did want to aim to have my own one day."
But at age 23, van Veen said his boss at the time told him his goal of owning his own pub in the next three years would not happen.
"Literally three years later I opened Papa Mo's."
Kerr ran her first restaurant at age 19 and has been in the industry ever since.
"It's just what I do, it's in my blood."
The 39-year-old moved to New Zealand from the United Kingdom about 10 years ago with her Kiwi husband and started a family.
Since coming to the Bay about seven years ago, Kerr has been operations manager for Cobb & Co and has helped build the CBK brands across the country.
But she left the role this year to start her own business with van Veen.
"I approached Luke just before lockdown and said I wanted to open my own place.
"Luke and I have been working together since I've been in the Bay. I thought we needed a partnership. So I said, 'Let's do it'."
Van Veen will run Papa Mo's while Kerr will be "top fox" at Frosty & Fox.
"It's going to be a challenge but that's why I choose good operators," van Veen said.
"I work with people who better me, like Lisa. Someone who I know has got the skills to run this whether I'm in it or not.
"That's what business and partnership are all about. It's finding those strengths to your weaknesses and vice versa. We complement each other really well."
Frosty & Fox
Frosty & Fox is a social dining bar and will be "completely different" to Papa Mo's in Golden Sands' Excelsa Centre.
Van Veen said the business was a concept he and Kerr had been looking at for about four months.
"As very social people ourselves, we felt there was a bit of a hole in the market at the Mount for the social crowd to go," he said.
"We were looking for something that was a little bit more fun and vibrant that will take us through from the morning breakfast to a late-night on a Friday and Saturday - something for the families as well," she said.
On the menu will be gourmet hot "dawgs", through to bowls and stone grill - all based around social dining.
"There will be gluten-free options and keto bowls too, so we've ticked all the boxes," Kerr said.
The business aims to be a modern social experience and will follow the characters of Frosty and Fox and their Tiny Tins. Frosty signifies the cold frosty beer on offer and Fox represents the cocktails while the Tiny Tins show there's something for everyone of all ages.
"The whole social media will revolve around them and what they do, how they use Frosty and Fox themselves as a kind of alter ego type thing," Kerr said.
It was becoming a "big thing" to bring something iconic into the brand to help draw people in and share on social media. "You've got to become known for things."
Risk and reward
The pair said while there was an element of risk in opening a new business post Covid-19 lockdown, it had not been difficult.
"Covid is just a fact of life. You just have to take it into your operational budgets and it hasn't affected Mount hospo really," Kerr said.
"We're going to have an absolute stunner of a summer and it [Covid] is just adding to the challenge really and makes it a bit more interesting."
Good systems, hard work and people were the secrets to success, they said.
"It doesn't matter how great of an idea you might have, if you don't have the right people around you it's never going to succeed," van Veen said.
Both Kerr - a mum of two - and van Veen had made sacrifices to be able to bring their vision to life.
"Everybody has to have a work-life balance. Hospo is a hard game," she said.
"There will have been sacrifices I've made but for me, it doesn't feel like that. To me, it isn't a sacrifice," he said.
"It's a goal I wanted to achieve. I know where I'm going and there's planning and you put other priorities in order.
"Every day is a new challenge but that's also what's exciting."