Hospitality Business Magazine

Napier icon adapts to COVID-19 financial reality

For one long-time hospitality operator, having a healthy social bottom line has been as important as strong financials; a model that just might be a game changer for the industry in this challenging, new business environment. 

“No matter how much you have to cut back, hang on to your staff because they’re everything,” is a realisation that was reinforced for Hawke’s Bay hospo operators Carol and Jeremy Bayliss, while the New Zealand economy was under lockdown.     

Since 2005 their budgets at Napier’s Westshore Beach Inn that the couple has run since 2005, and their new bar Rogue Hop Speakeasy in Napier’s CBD, have focused on the triple bottom line, which takes into account staff well-being and environmental  factors alongside the financials.      

At the Westshore following lockdown, turnover was down 95%. “But when Level 1 arrived and the Blues/Crusaders game played on June 14, we bounced back,” Jeremy says. “The Warriors game and Super Rugby made a huge difference for us, pulling people back out of hibernation.”

“We’ve still got a lot of hard work ahead. Customers now come out early and want to go home early. They want to dine between 6 and 7pm and if they can’t they’ll go elsewhere so we need to cater for that. Overall though we’re feeling that if Covid-19 is kept under control we should be okay.”

When it’s not just about the money    

There’s something special about the Westshore Beach Inn and that’s probably due to the way proprietors Carol and Jeremy Bayliss do their books. They focus on the triple bottom line, which takes social and sustainability factors into account, as well as the financials.

As Napier’s oldest hotel, licenced since 1851, the Westshore has been operating on its present site since 1925 and is one of the few genuine community pubs still operating in New Zealand. 

Their healthy awards cabinet confirms they’re on the right track. Aka, Econo Lodge Napier, the venue won Gold in the Choice Ho­tel Asia-Pac Awards four years in a row from 2012 to 2016 to name just a few accolades.  

Located 10 minutes north of Napier’s CBD, this 160-year-old seaside hotel is a community hub where guests enjoy an appealing, casual place to eat, drink and stay.   

The large garden bar is blessed with sea breezes; popular menu options feature in two restaurants, PAK–Asian Kitchen and the Bistro. Quality wines and beverages are on offer alongside craft beers made onsite and accommodation comprises 15 studio suites.

When Carol and Jeremy took over the lease in 2005, their original vision was for a welcoming, comfy local where people enjoyed a pleasant beer or wine with a pub meal. They realised quickly though their vision needed to change if they wanted to succeed.   

“We had to become much more driven around the food than we thought we’d be. We also built up the accommodation side significantly, developed the garden bar which doubled our capacity and established the Napier Brewing Company onsite to give us a point of difference,” Jeremy says.    

“Initially we were serving 90% Tui beer, now it’s about 1%. It was a rough gang pub and hindsight’s a wonderful thing. It has been far more challenging than we ever thought but we’ve ground it out. We haven’t taken a brewery cheque for seven years and in the past four years we’ve found our niche.”  

As part of their vision revamp, the couple set out attracting a broader customer base and with Jeremy handling front-of-house and Carol on operations, they’ve succeeded. By setting a reputation for great food and beverages and an appealing atmosphere inside and out, the Westshore is now a destination as a Napier local as well.     

The venue is proud of its con­sis­tently good food and seasonal menus showcasing local produce. “Value is a really strong driver and when you’re delivering that as a standalone without the buying power of the groups, you have to keep on innovating.”

It always amazes Jeremy though that cus­tomers ask where their fish comes from but never the chicken or steak.

“We could serve imported frozen chicken that comes in at $6 a kilo but we buy Bostock organic chicken at four times that. I can’t charge four times that for the dish though, but I’m passionate about this – I would rather serve ethical, quality produce and earn less money.” 

Starting out in hospitality 38 years ago as a Wellington student, Jeremy arrived in Napier 34 years ago, buying into the Criterion Hotel in 1986 and going into partnership a few years later, helped develop Ahuriri’s iconic Shed 2. In 1986he saysthere were 32 liquor licenses in the area and pubs were still going broke. “Today there are 220 licenses. We’ve been through four recessions plus unhelpful legislation changes and it’s a miracle we’ve survived.”  

But survive they have and part of that is certainly due to their landlord, Wayne Parker. “Wayne ran the pub himself for several years. He likes the industry and we have a genuine partnership. For him it’s not just about the money either, it’s also about leaving a legacy. Carol and I have done the development work, spending in excess of $1.6m so it definitely works both ways.”

The budgets at The Westshore are done more to break even, rather than how much can potentially be earned. Some staff have started as cleaners and are then nurtured into management roles and seven 14 year olds work in the hotel as dishies one night a week each. They’re paid well and encouraged to contribute to KiwiSaver.

Every Westshore hotel initiative encompasses the triple bottom line. “Of course the financials have to be strong. You have to survive but our reinvestment in the business tells our staff, we don’t take the money and run.” 

Jeremy’s management style is to shake things up, preferring to try 10 things and get three right rather than two and get one right.  “I’ve made mistakes but the joy of working for yourself is that you’re the one making the calls.”  

The couple acknowledges their team of 34 for the many awards that the pub has earned over the years and say their ability to get things done only happens with the right people around them: “They don’t all have to be experts, they just need the customers’ interests at heart. Our saying here goes, ‘The customer isn’t always right but they must be satisfied.’”  

Being able to employ committed hospitality career staff from the Philippines has been a game changer for Carol and Jeremy. They’ve gained stability over the last four to five years through their manager and chefs and that’s helped them be where they want to be.

“Luckily our team realises that if they want to succeed, the business has to succeed but again, it’s a two way thing: some of our chefs live above the hotel and we try to regularly give them three day weekends. Things like this make a big difference to morale.”    

If the Bayliss’s hadn’t come along in 2005, it’s likely that apartments would be on the  hotel site by now but while Jeremy and Wayne are around the Westshore will remain.    

For those considering using a similar hospo model, Jeremy shares a few tips:  “Right from the start, get a good accountant or book keeper; they watch the numbers and you take the risks. You’ll need good people around you too, and pay them well.”