Top chef Martin Bosley has been forced into liquidation, 13 years after the opening of his award-winning restaurant.
The chef sat alone in a sea of empty tables yesterday, wringing his hands.
"It's the hardest decision I've ever had to make, it's the worst day of my life," he said.
"Having to tell the staff that you'll no longer be here, it's devastating. It's not a position we ever thought we'd be in. We feel like we've been part of the family in this town for a long time. I'm terribly disheartened that this is how it's ended."
Bosley told 15 staff that the business was being placed into voluntary liquidation yesterday morning.
He spent the day ringing creditors and customers, cancelling bookings.
Staff had received their final pay, and liquidators would begin to value assets. The business had no bank loans but did owe creditors - an amount Bosley would not share.
A tough few years during the financial crisis, a slew of cancelled bookings, and the loss of his lease at the Port Nicholson Yacht Club prompted the final call.
Two years ago Bosley enlisted a strategic adviser to help with cost-cutting, and "made significant inroads" in repaying debt he had fallen into with creditors and Inland Revenue.
He began trying to "casualise" dining and find other revenue streams - including $30 fish and chip Sundays and launching a range of sauces.
But business never really picked up, and in December the yacht club advertised the lease on the premises - wanting to include more casual dining as part of its plan to rejuvenate the boat harbour precinct.
Bosley said he planned to put in a bid to retain it, but changed his mind last week when he discovered the yacht club had submitted its own proposal.
"I kind of had a suspicion that is what they were after all along, and that confirmed it for me . . . there wasn't a great deal of transparency. It was a bit mischievous."
Since the lease went out for tender, wedding bookings had been cancelled, and people were reluctant to book without knowing if the restaurant would still be there, Bosley said.
"It really just put the brakes on the business . . . I wouldn't say it was the catalyst, but the straw that broke the camel's back."
Customers and suppliers had been supportive, he said.
"People have said some kind things but you just feel like you've let a whole lot of people down. There's no joy in this moment, that's for sure. I'm sorry for the creditors I've left owing money to, I wish that wasn't the case."
Bosley wasn't sure what he would do next, likening the loss to losing his home.
"It's just a case of wrapping things up here and taking time to breathe . . . hopefully out of the chaos, something comes out of it."
Yacht club chief executive Dean Stanley said the club had spoken to Bosley in the past two years about a change of focus from fine dining. He rejected the idea they were "mischievous".
"We've always, throughout the whole process, been going to put in an option for how the club itself would run the space. It's not our core business. If the market comes up with something better than what we could do, then we'd run with that," Stanley said.
"We've thoroughly enjoyed our relationship with Martin over the years, and we are very saddened to see what has happened."
Restaurant association national president Mike Egan said the hospitality industry was always tough, and constantly changing. The leisurely, fine-dining experience had fallen out of favour with a time-poor society, and restaurants needed to adapt.
"Martin, I mean he'll come back. He's a fantastic chef. Just like any artist, they work out what's new and reinvent themselves. I have great confidence that this is not the end of Martin Bosley whatsoever."
- The Dominion Post
Which way are farmers likely to vote in the 2014 General Election?Related story: Farmers weigh voting choices