9 May 2019

Christchurch restaurant closures prompt fears hardest winter is coming

4:40 pm on 9 May 2019

Central Christchurch hospitality operators fear they could be heading into the toughest winter to date.

2018 DEC 22, New Zealand, Christchurch, New Regent st,

Photo: 123rf.com

Eight years on from the earthquakes there's more restaurants and bars in the city than ever before - but operators say there are not enough customers to share around.

The list of closures since January includes Bamboozle Restaurant, Orleans, Sailor's Son coffee roastery, the Anchorage cafe, Bootleg BBQ Kitchen and a branch of Habitual Fix.

It has been 20 years since Bruce Griffith and his wife took over Astro Lounge bar and Cook'n' with Gas restaurant on Worcester Boulevard. They too have made the decision to close on the basis that the "sheer cost of operations was just too much".

"It was just unviable ... and we feel bad about what's happened. We let our staff down, and many of our staff were with us for years. And we've probably let our suppliers down, which is pretty gutting," he said.

Hospitality investor Max Bremner has owned more than 20 Christchurch bar and restaurants in the past 25 years and said he did not like the way things were trending.

"That's never happened before. Normally [restaurants and bars] shut the doors in September or October, when winter comes hard and they can't pay their bills. But never at this time of year ... that is a terrible sign," he said.

It also comes despite a positive start, on paper, to 2019 for Christchurch's hospitality sector.

According to the city's economic development agency, ChristchurchNZ, central city spending on food and beverages rose 23 percent last year, while total visitor spending was up 13 percent this January compared to last.

But Coffee Worx owner Ian Riach, who helps distribute coffee beans to businesses across the South Island, said Christchurch visitor spending seemed to be going straight to a small amount of established bars, restaurants and cafes.

That is leaving newcomers to grapple with high city rents and tough competition, with none of their target customers frequenting the central city.

"Good people are setting up businesses and they're aiming at tourists and residents. But most of the people there are construction workers, so they're looking for a different offer," he said.

Peter Morrison, a central city hotel owner and president of Hospitality New Zealand Canterbury's branch, said new businesses had also been banking on the opening of buildings like the Christchurch convention centre to bring in visitors - but they have not been completed on time.

Mr Morrison said he was hopeful there would not be too many more closures over Winter, as ChristchurchNZ prepares to roll out a winter advertising campaign with Expedia, Air New Zealand and local hotels.

Nevertheless, he said, operators were going to have to "buckle down" and hope that they got through.

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