“Everyone knows someone who lost everything”
At the start of last week the hospitality scene in the Hawkes Bay was gearing up for the busiest weekend of the year: Napier’s Art Deco Festival. Restaurants were fully staffed and ready for the rush, fridges and freezers were groaning with prep in anticipation of a big weekend. What they got instead was cyclone Gabrielle, thousands of dollars worth of lost stock, untold cancelled bookings, and in some cases, devastating flooding that wiped out everything they had worked for years to build.
One such business is the Zeelandt Brewery and the connected brew pub the Cone and Flowers in Eskdale, one of the areas worst affected by the cyclone. Owner Chris Barber lives with his family on-site and when the flood waters came there was no time to evacuate. They watched as the waters rose and engulfed their home and their business.
“Everything is under metres of silt,” says Barber over a very dubious phone line. Very little was salvagable after the flood. Some of the chefs managed to get in to retrieve their knives which had been kept on high shelves. They recovered about 80 bottles of wine from the chiiller and about six kegs. Everything else is gone. “They are finding our kegs down on the beach.” said Barber. The Esk Valley still has no power.
On higher ground, The Mission winery and restaurant, near Taradale received truckloads of evacuees from one of the local resthomes. They sheltered and fed around 150 people in the winery’s onsite chapel. “We had fridges worth of food that we weren’t going to be able to sell. So we turned everything into soup.” said Ricky Littleton, The mission’s owner and executive chef.
Although the premises mostly survived unscathed the business lost thousands of dollars worth of food and the events and functions that are their bread and butter are being cancelled at an alarming rate. The events that weren’t cancelled turned into an even bigger problem. The Australian events company who were due to hold a Sting concert at The Mission, announced via The Mission’s concert website that they were going ahead with the event a mere day or two after the cyclone. There was a huge online backlash from the community and threats of a boycott.
Napier restaurant Central Fire Station is housed in a building that survived the devastating 1932 Napier earthquake and is, according to owner Sam Clark, almost indestructible. The restaurant was unscathed beside for the loss of power and the inevitable loss of fridges full of prep. As we spoke, Clark was gearing up to reopen the restaurant on Friday, but his mood is sombre.
“The CBD here was mostly unaffected but everyone knows someone who lost everything.” The restaurant’s main veg supplier lost his whole crop. Clark is aware of growers who lost their vineyards that have taken twenty years to establish. “After Covid and right before Art Deco, it’s a kick in the nuts.” said Clark.
“People just wanted to help”
Despite the understandably despondent mood around the industry everyone I spoke to has something to say about the resilience and generosity of the community. In the Esk Valley, Barber couldn’t believe the number of people who turned up at the brewery and the pub with shovels and diggers. “People just wanted to help. It’s incredible.”
The Mission have been preparing and sending out 200 lunches a day for first responders working in the area. Littleton expresses the deep pride he feels to be part of the industry, saying restaurants around the region are banding together to help those most affected by the cyclone.
Fiona Fraser, a local PR consultant, is well connected to the hospitality industry in the Hawkes Bay. She is full of admiration for local businesses like Craggy Range sending out food to isolated communities on a daily basis, and restaurants allowing their staff time off to help in the recovery and rebuilding of the region. She is thrilled to see businesses beginnig to reopen and customers coming out with their families to eat and drink and support their local bars and restaurants.
“It’s going to take money”
Fraser is under no illusions as to the scale of the recovery that lies ahead. “It’s going to take a lot of money pumped into the region. We’ve got plenty of people pitching in to help, plenty of donations of nappies, sanitary products, barbeques, and things we need in the here and now. But in the long to medium terms it’s going to take money.”
Littleton would like to see a support package similar to the wage subsidy provided during Covid lockdowns. “Making sure our staff are taken care of, making sure they can pay their rent and buy food. So we aren’t calling them to say there’s no work today and them having to worry about surviving. Just taking that pressure off would be a big help.”
Getting tourists back to the Hawkes Bay will be key to the industry’s recovery. Once the roads are reopened and the bars, hotels and restaurants have opened their doors, the region is going to need kiwis and tourists alike to come to the area and spend money.
Sam Clark says businesses learnt valuable lessons about survival during Covid. Recovery from Cyclone Gabrielle is going to take all that know-how, as well a huge helping hand from the government and ordinary New Zealanders alike to bring the Hawkes Bay back to it’s glorious, hospitable best once more.
Photos and video all courtesy of Chris Barber