Whanganui's Maria Lane Eatery & Bar is a finalist in the 2021 New Zealand Hospitality Awards for Excellence - in a year in which record entries were received.
The laneway establishment, which opened in 2019, is one of five finalists in the Best New/Redeveloped Business – Food & Beverage category of the awards, which celebrate the "best of the best" within the hospitality and accommodation industry.
Owners Belinda Pilcher and Bryce Mason said they were humbled to make the finals after some challenging times since opening the business.
"We have reinvented ourselves from opening without a liquor licence and operating as a Mexican street food restaurant to getting our licence then going into [Covid-19] lockdown," Mason said.
Pilcher said the category looked at the last 12 months "and how you have renewed yourselves, how you have engaged with different customers and how you have attracted different audiences".
Maria Lane attracted a wide demographic of customers, she said.
"Thanks to our amazing regulars who keep coming back and to our amazing staff. A lot of people who travel regularly now make a point of stopping here to eat.
"The biggest thing for me is the way we have reinvented things. We've survived every little turn in the road."
Mason said traditionally it took "an organic pathway to find your market" but this was amplified with Covid.
"Now we have our regulars and they bring friends and visitors from out of town.
"One thing I feel really stands out is the design and build of the place. Local lad Chris Aplin designed it. He took a laneway between two buildings and turned it into a world class eating establishment."
People often asked if the building had already existed but it had always been a carpark for the bank, Bryce said.
Pilcher and Mason said being finalists was "a big win for us".
"Without our supporters we wouldn't be here so a big thanks to them."
They hope their regulars will vote in the People's Choice category - the link is on the Maria Lane's social media sites or vote via the Hospitality New Zealand website www.hospitality.org.nz/s/awards
Hospitality NZ lower North Island regional manager Adam Parker said there was a record number of entries this year - the 24th year of the awards.
The Hospitality Awards for Excellence celebrate the success, achievements and, especially in this year post-Covid, the resilience of the hospitality and accommodation sector. Last year's awards were cancelled because of the pandemic.
Parker said the Best New/Redeveloped Business category was new this year.
"The whole premise around the category was to showcase businesses that have set up a completely different business model post-Covid or changed things so significantly that by default they have turned into something else.
"Bryce and Belinda have done a combination of those things.
"In the past entries have been narrowed down to about three finalists per category. The year, because there were so many entries, they have made it five finalists because they were such high calibre that it was hard to decide."
The awards will be judged over five days by an independent panel of people from around New Zealand.
Parker said the awards were an opportunity to celebrate the hospitality sector which, on top of already stringent compliance requirements, had faced the challenges of Covid and the ongoing nationwide shortage of staff.
Winners will be announced at a black-tie dinner at Eden Park on the final night of the inaugural New Zealand Hospitality Summit, the Future of Hospitality - Building Forward, in Auckland on September 7-9.