Keeping afloat in Christchurch’s hospitality industry is “tough” and those who have managed to “ride out the storm” should be praised for their dedication to the city says Oxford Group co-owner and hospitality stalwart Max Bremner.
“There are a lot of innovative people here who have put their balls on the line and didn’t take their money out of Christchurch – when a lot did,” he states. While the straight-talker is trying to stay optimistic about the city’s hospitality industry, he says there are many issues which still need addressing, including a lack of decision making, leadership and financial prowess within local government. “We need to have a council that encourages events which benefit our establishments – and preferably ones that are not anti-hospitality.
“Christchurch needs to become a sticky gateway not a slippery gateway. We need to attract those visitors hoping off a plane here into the city and we need to have things here for them to do.” Max says events need to be co-ordinated so that they don’t “empty bars out”.
“Building things like the Margaret Mahy playground and the new library are good but they don’t bring people through our doors. Neither do events like the Night Noodle Markets.” On the positive, he sees Christchurch as “evolving” and looks forward to the Te Pae Christchurch Convention Centre opening. “I see the worm turning slowly. The new Hoyts complex is marvellous and new eateries like Little High are slowly bringing people back into the city. We just need things to happen faster.”
Some of the businesses he and Oxford Group business partner Darryll Park own include the popular Fat Eddies, Original Sin and Kong establishments on The Terrace and The Bealey on Bealey Avenue. Max, who prefers to work in the background and leave the limelight to Darryll, says he’s relieved The Terrace (formerly The Strip) is finally taking off. He pays tribute to local businessman and fellow hospitality character Antony Gough who he believes helps keep Christchurch ticking. “Hospitality is a hard business to be in and a lot of people come into it wearing rose-coloured spectacles and a lot don’t make it.”
Max jokes he practically “lives” with his accountant who he sees one or two hours a day. “To survive you have to have a business head. It’s no longer about being a chef or publican running a pub.” While he would like to see Christchurch’s rebuild happen a lot faster, he’s still investing, pointing to his latest project, a 39-unit motel beside his purpose built hostel complex All Stars Inn on Bealey Avenue. To be run by All Stars Inn general manager Phil Leslie, the new development is called 24Seven and will open in March next year.
Phil, the former general manager of Base backpackers, backs Max’s enthusiasm for a quicker rebuild. He says the Christchurch City Council needs to get on with building the city’s stadium which will greatly benefit accommodation providers. “It will be a great asset for the city and when major events are on it will mean that every room will be full.”