Whangārei resident Sam Tarrant is braving Covid-19 red light restrictions and a hospitality slump as he prepares to open his new bar and eatery AstroBoy.
However, Tarrant is in a positive space ahead of opening the business in Whangārei's city centre.
Along with Tarrant, James Sinclair, as part owner, is putting his mark on AstroBoy in the front of house bringing knowledge and ideas from a long hospotality career here and abroad.
"It's a little stressful given the Covid situation and having a limit to people allowed in the venue," Tarrant said.
"But we're going in knowing what the situation is. We're not thrown in the deep end. We know what the limits are, and we have budgeted to work within them. We're not expecting to make money in the first few years, but as long as we don't lose money, we will be fine."
AstroBoy will be at 69 Bank St and will have its opening night on March 4. The address has been the site of previous bars and restaurants, most recently, Thai Chef's.
The bar hopes to set itself up as a casual hangout for after-work drinks or a weekend hotspot for those wanting good company, good food, and an inclusive atmosphere, complete with a late-night menu and a host of cocktails on offer.
"We're wanting the vibe to be fun, interesting, and something a bit different, yet still a place where everyone feels accepted and safe," said Tarrant. "It's not going to be a hard-out party venue, though there will be elements of that, and we want it to stay fun. We're looking to bring a bit of variety back to Whangārei's late-night scene."
Tarrant has been working in the hospitality industry since his teens and has always wanted to open his own business. After attending NorthTec and gaining an NZ Certificate in Cookery Level 3 and Level 4, he felt he had the skills needed to make his dream work.
"I got the opportunity to open up a business, and I just jumped at it. NorthTec definitely helped me get there. I learned a lot about the practical side of hospitality and had the chance to practise those skills in a real-life setting. We got the opportunity to make food you wouldn't usually make in an average restaurant."
Although the bar will not have a full restaurant, it will still supply food well into the night. Tarrant has plans to devise a menu of unique and exciting bites to tempt.
"We're calling [the food] Asian fusion, but it's not a fusion of different Asian cultures as much as it is a fusion of Asian and Western. So, we're doing things like burgers with Asian flavours, Korean fried chicken burgers, sticky Chinese pork belly. We'll do some traditional dumplings but also mac and cheese dumplings, or a cheeseburger spring roll. We want interesting and unique food crossovers. I also have plans for a dessert menu that's still in the works."
As for drinks: "Cocktails is going to be our main thing, but we will have plenty on offer," Tarrant assured. "We've got some craft beers lined up and are looking at some fantastic New Zealand wines. We're wanting to push New Zealand made, we have so much on offer here there's no reason not to. We have some Japanese whisky, gin, and vodka for a core range. We also have some really lovely non-alcoholic options in the works."
Tarrant has plenty of ideas for entertainment and he also wants to branch into a collaborative structure down the line.
With many local bars, restaurants, and events venues in Whangārei, Tarrant hopes to be able to work with businesses to help boost the industry.
"I've got a lot of ideas; it's just seeing what's going to work. I'm thinking of a potential hospitality discount around town. Or collaboration with event venues for pre or post-drinks. With the Hundertwasser opening and people slowly starting to get back to normal life, it would be nice to give people coming into Whangārei something more to do."