He may be a seasoned restaurateur of 35 years but when PJ and his wife Anne pulled up outside The Wharf Kitchen and Bar on their first-ever visit to Raglan last July it was love at first sight.
So much so, the couple reveal, that they decided before so much as stepping inside the doors that this was the business to buy.
The country went into lockdown the following month but they were undaunted. “We made sure we got it,” PJ says. “The world doesn’t stop just because of Covid.”
PJ admits it’s a big change of lifestyle from Karaka, south of Auckland, where they and their two children have been living. But they’ve already agreed Raglan is where they want, ultimately, to retire.
“It’s like you’re in heaven,” he says of the restaurant’s harbourside location.
The couple’s 12 and six year olds – although still commuting back to the Big Smoke for school while PJ wraps up loose ends there – have already joined the local waka club, their interest piqued by the outrigger canoes stored alongside the Wharf Kitchen and Bar.
PJ and Anne have taken over a premises that has a long and colourful history, dating back to the early-to-mid 1900s when it was the Earl’s Tudor Tearooms and quite the place to be seen.
The tearooms have since been reinvented as an ice-cream shop – in the 1990s – then as the Tudor restaurant and backpackers and the Marlin Bar & Cafe, before assuming its latest identity as The Wharf Kitchen and Bar.
Now PJ, who’s 49 and originally from India, and Anne, 41, who’s from the Philippines, are putting their own stamp on things. First and foremost they are keen to turn their new business of a few months into an affordable eatery for families day and night.
PJ knows his stuff. He started out decades ago as a chef – working in India and the Middle East – but then moved into managing restaurants. He’s been based for 18 years in Auckland, where Anne has also been into catering and hospitality at LSG Sky Chefs.
The couple point out that as well as providing restaurant fare like steak, chicken and fresh fish at standard prices, their new menu actually starts at just $10 for the likes of pancakes or a toast/egg/hash-brown combo. And that’s all day long, says PJ, from opening at nine in the morning through till closing at 8.30pm on weekdays or later at weekends.
“People can come at (almost) any time,” he insists. They’ll be served what they want when they want.
PJ reveals he’s also come up with a “really good” dessert menu to tempt the palate, and special deals to appeal to families. Kids can eat free on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with each paying adult, and it’s ‘dine free on your birthday’ along with two paying customers.
And he’s started buying local: special sausages from the Top Cut Butchery, dairy products from Dreamview Farm, craft beer from Workshop Brewing Co. “We are trying to help as many locals as possible,” he insists.
PJ wants to give back to the community which has helped him and his family settle in over the past few months. Some people, he says, have volunteered their time.
“I am totally humbled,” he adds of the support.