11 Jun 2020

How Hawke's Bay is bouncing back after Covid-19

7:39 am on 11 June 2020

From turning backpacker dorms into escape rooms, or dumping fine dining for comfort food, Hawke's Bay businesses are coming up with innovative ways to survive in the post-Covid-19 world.

Tinaka Stewart, owner of Archie's Bunker in Napier.

Photo: RNZ / Anusha Bradley

When the borders closed the Napier backpackers and budget accommodation Archie's Bunker saw its income drop dramatically.

Owners Tinaka and Lynne Stewart spent the lock down brainstorming "many crazy ideas" to keep the business afloat.

"We considered creating shared office spaces, climbing walls ... we even entertained the idea of a brothel for women. It was kind of a joke, but also kind of not," Tinaka Stewart said.

Eventually she and her mother, Lynne, came up with the idea of creating Enigma Escape Rooms by transforming some of the hostel's inner windowless rooms into entertainment venues.

There will be at least three rooms, featuring five "stories", including mysteries to solve on the Orient Express (or Hogwarts Express for younger customers) two detective crimes, and a gruesome murder mystery to solve.

The rush was now on to get the escape rooms ready in time for the July school holidays, Stewart said.

Restaurants try new tactics

Around the corner at the award-winning fine dining Napier restaurant Bistronomy, chef and owner James Beck has completely resigned his menu towards more affordable comfort food.

His new menu, offering fish pie and beef wellington, was partly inspired by the takeaways options they started offering customers in alert Level 2, which felt natural to keep when the restaurant reopened for dine-in.

"I knew there wasn't going to be such a demand for the style of food I was cooking, so it gave me the opportunity to go back to our roots and change it towards this type of comfort food we are offering now," Beck said.

Offering a simpler, more affordable menu is something several of Hawke's Bay top wineries, including Craggy Range and Clearview Estate, have turned to in order to entice more customers.

But Havelock North's Malo restaurant is doing something different.

Its restaurant was booming again thanks to loyal locals, but head chef and owner Bert van der Steeg said a new in-home private chef dining experience they launched a few weeks ago was taking off.

"We are heading into winter and feel there are people out there who are still not comfortable with going to restaurants, and feel it might be nice to do something instead in the comfort of their own place."

Sports goods manufacturer adapts

The demise of sports during the lockdown forced the sports uniform manufacturer Kooga New Zealand to switch to selling PPE and hand sanitiser.

Their usual customers, such as schools, sports clubs and many in essential services were crying out for supplies, director Lizzy McPhail said.

They ended up partnering with three local companies to supply customers with the sanitiser and gear they needed, she said.

"Working with other people and aligning our businesses with other local businesses ... really it was key. It was a light bulb moment for us."

Although McPhail expected sports clubs and schools to start re-ordering uniforms later in the year, a new partnership with another company post-lockdown would see them provide high-visibility gear for construction workers.

"We've had no option but to adapt. We've had to really think outside the square."

She encouraged people to continue to shop local and support local businesses to give them every chance of survival.

All the businesses said their efforts to adapt have meant they had been able to keep all their staff, and despite times being tough, they felt positive about the outlook for the future.

While Bistronomy customers' reaction to the new menu offering had been positive, Beck had also been encouraged by the wider "sense of cooperation" in the city.

"There's a really good spirit of community in Napier, which I've noticed since the lock down, and I feel that that's going to carry us through."

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