Walnut Cottage Cafe owner Rick Siddik serves up Queenstown's best lemon and meringue pie.

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Rick Siddik has been a restaurant owner since the age of 17, thanks to a chance opportunity and his generous parents. He’s now 32 and enjoying the perfect lifestyle hospitality business, Walnut Cottage Cafe at Lake Hayes, near Queenstown. He tells Hospitality Business how it all came about.

How did you get into hospitality?

I was at high school and my friend Ashley Giles suggested I join him kitchen-handing for (Belgian restaurateur) Ben Chardome at the Bathhouse Restaurant. Chardome liked our work ethic and asked us to go into partnership with him in his other restaurant, Pasta Pasta. He gave us a loan along with our parents and we paid it back gradually, buying more shares each year. I did a chef’s course at Cromwell Polytechnic (45 mins from Queenstown) during the first two years, working really long hours in the restaurant as well as driving to Cromwell every day. Ashley sold out in 2005, I stayed on until 2008. When I was 24 and still owned Pasta Pasta, I set up my restaurant in Bali, ‘Cido’. I owned that for four or five years and that’s when I met Dini, my Indonesian wife.

What drove you to succeed at such a young age?

Just discipline and drive. I wanted to own my own business. I had strong goals. Dad always said start from the bottom. You need to know everything about the business.

What inspires your cooking?

My Asian background – I grew up in Jakarta. We moved here when I was about nine. Former Bathhouse chef Joff Bertram has also influenced me. I used to love his food and style of cooking. I’ve picked up styles from different chefs and created my own style. I love the Asian influence. I enjoy the challenge of cooking gluten free food. They didn’t teach us that at cooking school.

What attracted you to this historic, quaint country cafe?

I’d always driven past this place and never actually stopped. I came here one day and really loved it. I tried to buy it, but it had just sold, so two years later when it came up for sale we bought it. It’s the perfect lifestyle place. I no longer wanted to work nights. I’ve travelled widely, so I’m happy working 9am until 5.30 or 6pm.

What are the biggest business challenges you’ve faced?

Staff are constantly moving here. At Pasta Pasta someone would break a leg snowboarding and we’d have nobody to work that night. I used to run around to the backpacker’s hostel and find someone to wash dishes for a free meal. I’ve got Walnut Cottage to the stage where I’m a lot happier with the returns. The business struggled through the recession years, as people weren’t spending, but this year it’s really come together and we’ve just had our best summer yet.

What advice would you give other young chefs aspiring to be like you?

Stay determined and focused. Have goals and a good business plan. Do something you’re passionate about. I’ve always enjoyed hospitality. Every night as a chef is different – no two are the same. Be really aware of cultural differences – that probably applied more in Bali, but know your staff and their needs well.

Any plans for the future?

My wife and I would like to open an Indonesian restaurant in Queenstown when the time is right. There’s a gap that hasn’t been filled in the market here. I’ve got about 30 Indonesian friends in town and most of them work in hospitality, so we have a ready-made team.

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