Bosley back after cashflow crisis

HARD TIMES: Martin Bosley.
HARD TIMES: Martin Bosley.

Top chef Martin Bosley's Wellington waterfront restaurant almost closed this winter, crippled by debts because of cancelled functions.

The established restaurateur found suppliers rallied around him when he was upfront about the slump in cashflow.

He brought in an outside adviser who helped restructure the business, which is now busy with Christmas bookings.

"The advice from my lawyers and accountants was to close the doors and walk away," he said, describing this year's trading period as the toughest he had seen during 30 years in the business.

A string of corporate bookings had to be cancelled last Christmas as companies said entertainment budgets had been blown on Rugby World Cup festivities.

The weekday lunch trade dried up, and soon, debts for fresh fish mounted. Bosley was shocked to find himself falling on hard times.

"It has been an incredibly humbling experience. I never thought I would find myself in that position. You learn a lot about yourself having to go to people cap in hand."

Some long-term suppliers allowed him to put debts to one side temporarily and become a cash-on-delivery customer until business improved.

"I was honest with them. I went to every single one, laid my cards on the table, said: 'This is the situation but I honestly truly believe I can get through this.' "

Bosley said Martin Bosley's in Oriental Pde had nights when only a few customers turned up, but losing the weekday lunch trade was the killer.

"Friday was always a moneyshot day, but all of a sudden it wasn't any more. It was a dramatic blow to the bottom line."

People whom he looked to as business mentors said the restaurant, operating from its seafront location for 12 years, was a lost cause that he could close and later pick himself up.

A strategic adviser was brought in to suggest cost-cutting measures. Wine stocks were halved from about $30,000 worth to $15,000. Staff started washing tea towels themselves.

The number of tables increased from 8 to 11 and the restaurant began to have an active presence in social media.

It countered perceptions that it was a "special occasion-only venue" by introducing a Sunday night special of fish and chips and a glass of wine for $30, and a pre-theatre menu.

Christmas bookings this year were looking a lot better, Bosley said. The restaurant was in recovery mode, although he couldn't say when he hoped all the debts would be cleared.

"It would have been really easy for us to buy cheap ingredients . . but that's just not what we do."

He was grateful to suppliers who showed faith in him, and believed business was about personal relationships.

"Everyone has highs and lows . . . I've had long-term diners who couldn't pay their bills and I let them pay it off over three months."

The restaurant that bears his name has won multiple awards.

"We're here to stay. We are fighting," he said.

The Dominion Post