Hospitality Business Magazine

Michael Friend – hospitality legend and Cobb & Co trailblazer dies

Tribute: The New Zealand hospitality industry has paid tribute to icon and pioneer, Michael Friend, who has died after a brief battle with cancer.

Hospitality New Zealand Chief Executive Julie White says Michael, who was a Hospitality Hall of Fame recipient in 2014, made an amazing contribution during his more than 50 years in the industry.

“Michael was a true icon of our industry.There simply wasn’t anything about hospitality he didn’t understand and hadn’t encountered, and we are indebted to the work he did in leading big changes to industry training methods that we see today.

“He had that great knack of presenting a balanced but supportive view. Michael was a key member of our Auckland Branch until very recently when health issues took precedence.

“He worked tirelessly as the head judge for our annual Awards for Excellence for some years, kindly travelling extensively across the country for this. The industry scene won’t be quite the same without him. He will be sadly missed.”

Hospitality NZ Board member Russell Gray said: “He was Branch President prior to me and I couldn’t have wished for a more loyal and studious contributor during my tenure as President.”

Michael Friend, 70, had wide and varied experience in hospitality in most cities and regions across New Zealand and along the eastern seaboard of Australia.

His first foray into the sector was in 1972, when he was in the first group of hotel management trainees recruited by New Zealand Breweries, now Lion.

Over the 28 years that followed, he worked across a wide variety of Lion’s managed, leased and franchised business units, both in New Zealand and in the eastern states of Australia.

He spent his early years learning the business in two of Wellington’s finest hotels of the day, the Hotel St George and The Waterloo.

His first trail-blazer role was helping to build the Cobb & Co chain that introduced New Zealanders to affordable casual family restaurant dining. After opening a Cobb & Co in Hamilton in 1975 he became an integral part of the team that grew the chain to 28 restaurants – the 35th biggest restaurant chain in the world with revenues of $40 million.

In 1981, Lion sent him to Australia to establish Cobb & Co in Sydney, and when he returned he took on a variety of hotel regional manager positions which led to his appointment as General Manager for the 60-hotel Hancock chain, and later as General Manager of Lion’s 150 leased hotels.

When the hotel business came to a shuddering stop with the introduction of the 1989 Sale of Liquor Act, Michael led Lion’s hotel sell-off, before helping them do the opposite in Victoria, Australia, to help them grow market share of beer brands acquired from the defunct Bond Brewing empire.

He was on the board of the Lion Foundation charitable gaming trust for 10 years.

In 2001 he was appointed CEO of the Loaded Hog brew pubs and the One Red Dog chain. In more recent times, he led the operations team of the Portage and Waitakere Licensing Trusts in West Auckland. Michael left the Trusts to consult to the hospitality industry.

Michael served for a decade on the industry training organisation Hospitality Standards Institute, six as its chairman, during which time it overhauled training methods and concepts into the modern trends in the delivery of food, beverage and accommodation that are used today.

A memorial to celebrate Michael Friend’s life will be held on Friday December 9 at 2 pm at The Parnell Hotel and Conference Centre, Gladstone Rd, Parnell Auckland.