Hospitality company Nourish Group has spent $2 million on the revamp of its Britomart bar, and is eyeing further investment for other restaurants and bars.
The old Northern Steamship Co, housed in a historic building in downtown Auckland, has been extensively refurbished and will re-open tomorrow, under a new name, The Brit.
The concept - a gastro-pub-inspired "social hall" - was thought up by Richard Sigley, director and founder of Nourish Group, who said the majority of investment had been spent on the interior fitout of the bar.
Nourish owns and operates seven hospitality businesses in the downtown Auckland waterfront area, including The Crab Shack and The Culpeper. The hospitality group owns and operates 13 venues in total throughout the country, including Soul Bar, Euro and Jervois Steak Houses.
The company plans to refurbish its bar and restaurants The Chamberlain and Euro next, and hopes to launch its Crab Shack business to Australia.
Sigley said New Zealand's hospitality sector had changed exponentially in the past 10 years, and had shifted to operating collectively in a precinct with other operators.
"It is very difficult to do it on your own now," Sigley told the Herald.
"There's been growth and an emergence in hospitality precincts; Federal St, Ponsonby Rd, Britomart, North Wharf - we're seeing a lot of new mall activity as well. I've kept away from that because, to me, sand is still moving on it - I get people would go there for lunch, I just don't know if people would dine out at the mall on the weekends for dinner."
A string of restaurants and bars in downtown Auckland had closed down in recent years. Sigley said he believed the group's revamped site would encourage other hospitality operators to invest in the area.
The "restaurant game" remained tough, Sigley said, mainly due to the size of the population. "Our big issue in New Zealand is population more than anything. Hospitality is a huge growth category but it's sort of robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul a little bit.
"Because you've got a lot of competition out there it is very difficult to move pricing, on top of that you've got costs increasing - the minimum wage, rates and rents going up, all your costs are going up, and you're not increasing your revenue in some cases ... it's getting a lot more difficult."
The Crab Shack and Jervois Steak Houses were strong-performing, successful venues for Nourish. Sigley said the company was looking into opportunities to expand the footprint of those venues, including overseas.
The company would likely start with one restaurant in Australia to see how it performed before opening further locations. It has no solid plans in place at present, he said.
"Our Crab Shack brands are in Wellington and Auckland and I don't know if there is necessarily further growth for those in New Zealand," he said.
Nourish was focused on growing its hospitality business, Sigley said.
"It's a risky business, but we take calculated risks and don't rush into things."