Tony’s restaurant opened when Keith Holyoake was midway through his first term as New Zealand’s prime minister.
And its still sizzling, even after the country’s been through 15 prime ministers.
Very much an Auckland institution, Tony’s steakhouse on Wellesley St West has “beaten the odds” and will be celebrating turning 60 this Thursday.
The restaurant was started by the late Tony White on February 16, 1963, but has been owned and operated by Kenn Henderson for the last 45 years.
It started as an Italian pasta house but later became a dining destination for steaks, and was on the brink of closure at one point in the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“It’s sometimes still hard to believe we’ve beaten the odds, but here we are still sizzling at 60,” Henderson said.
When the restaurant opened, a steak dinner cost $4 but the queues continue even at today’s prices of $38 to $61.
Henderson said the Carpet Bag - fillet steak stuffed with oysters - remains the top favourite for customers.
“There are many reasons how Tony’s have made it to where we are now, but I think a large part of it has to do with our loyal customers,” he said.
“When we made that appeal after the restaurant was struggling during Covid and the early City Rail Link construction works, they returned in droves and they keep coming.”
Henderson said on average Tony’s served upwards of 150 meals per night and regularly had to turn between 50 to 60 people away.
Diner Sam Campbell, who is in her early 30s, first ate at Tony’s with her grandmother when she was about 5.
“I’m married and don’t live in Auckland now and nana’s passed on, but whenever I’m back it’s always a stop at Tony’s cause it brings back those lovely childhood memories,” Campbell said.
“It’s a place where we’d come after church on Sundays and where we’ve had many family birthdays and several engagements. In fact, it’s also where we gathered after nana’s funeral.”
On the menu, it is written that Tony’s “is the spot where so many people had first dates, secret rendezvous and wonderful family celebrations. People are dining here whose grandparents flirted here in their youth and whose parents brought them here as kids”.
Henderson, who semi-retired about 5 years ago, recalled the early years when queues to the restaurant would stretch down to Queen Street.
The restaurant - which has a plaque on the wall claiming to be the city’s oldest - is today run mainly by Henderson’s son Kelson.
Manager Donna Moody, who has successfully managed Tony’s for the last 32 years, says its the “familiarity and comfort” that keeps people coming back.
“Over the three decades, it hasn’t changed a lot and I think that’s where the charm is... it’s the same eye fillet, it’s the same rump steak and it’s cooked the same way when I first started, and I think that’s what brings people back,” Moody said.
Moody said staff were gutted and there were a lot of tears when Tony’s faced potential closure during the pandemic.
“There wasn’t a lot we could do, our hands were tied and we felt helpless. We tried doing takeaways but that didn’t work, they weren’t practical and didn’t make any money,” she said.
“But now that we’ve managed to pull through, I think it does call for a celebration.”
Staff, old and new, will be gathering for an in-house “family style celebration” next week, Moody said.