Young pub owner 'is getting it right'

HANDS-ON APPROACH: For Louis Dyer, 22, starting a business in Christchurch ‘‘just made sense’’.
HANDS-ON APPROACH: For Louis Dyer, 22, starting a business in Christchurch ‘‘just made sense’’.

For Louis Dyer, hospitality is in the blood.

With parents who "always ran restaurants," he started out washing dishes at the age of 11. He then graduated to working as a chef, being at the front of house and restaurant management.

So though he was just 21 years old when he opened up Civil and Naval last year, he brought a decade of hospitality experience to his Lyttelton pub.

While living in Wellington in 2012, Dyer had initially made plans to start a cafe off Courtenay Place.

But when he returned to Christchurch for a visit, his father suggested a boarded-up Lyttelton property that was waiting for earthquake repairs, and offered to help with financial backing.

Here, Dyer found he could rent premises "the same size as in Wellington, with a similar footcount, but for a sixth of the lease".

Financially, the decision to start out in Christchurch "just made sense," and Civil & Naval opened its doors in August.

Since then, Dyer says business has beaten all his projections. The bar sells 120 litres of beer a week, grinds out 10 kilograms of coffee, and serves about 600 drinks over the average Friday and Saturday nights.

Dyer employs five staff, including four fulltime workers.

He says some of the bar's success is a commitment to "getting it right first time".

In the early stages of rebuilding, he believed many locals were settling for less than they deserved from local drinking places. "It just didn't feel good enough - like anyone could start selling beer out of a garage and they'd do a decent trade, because Christchurch was in such a state."

Compared to the hospitality-saturated capital city, he decided that in Christchurch "you would be given more of a chance if you did something right first time".

Dyer has strong ideas about what works - an attribute that he says is both a blessing and a curse.

Committed to a hands-on approach, he has worked 80-hour weeks for most of the last six months.

He thinks youthful energy levels have helped him get through, and despite the challenges, says the advantages of starting a business while young are numerous. Young people, he believes, can take advantage of their intuitive knowledge of the latest technologies in business.

"I was born in 1991, and so was the internet, so I'm internet fluent. That helps hugely. There are businesses run by some people only 10 years older than me, and they can't manage a Facebook page, let alone a Twitter or Instagram."

There are other benefits to being young: a chance to experi ment, and risk failure.

"I'm always working on new things, and only around 5 per cent of them make it into here. We're constantly experimenting, constantly looking for something new that would suit this place".

"I suppose I can afford to fall flat on my face a few times," Dyer says. "Do total restarts, without totally ruining my life."

So far, it seems he is landing on his feet, more than falling on his face.

Fairfax Media