New restaurant steeped in history

21:52, Jun 03 2014
Garry and Kerry Ford
EXCITED: Garry and Kerry Ford have bought Panama House, on the corner of Collingwood St and Hardy St, and will open a new restaurant.

Restaurateurs Garry and Kerry Ford are excited to have a new "blank canvas" to work with.

The couple have purchased historic Panama House on the corner of Hardy and Collingwood streets, which they will turn into a new restaurant, to open in October.

The couple run restaurant Ford's on upper Trafalgar St which they will continue to operate, alongside the new venture.

Establishing a new restaurant is unchartered territory for the pair, who had previously bought established businesses.

"We have never had a restaurant to build from scratch. It's a blank canvas," chef Garry Ford said.

Wife Kerry said they had previously had to redecorate or work with someone else's design, "so it's exciting and scary at the same time. It will be a challenge but we hope to get all the things we want".


The pair had previously run Rusoe's Cafe at the Robinsons complex in Stoke and the White Morph Restaurant in Kaikoura, which they closed last year after it was extensively damaged by fire.

They were yet to decide on a name for the new business, but said it would include "Panama" in it, in reference to its long history. The site used to house the Miners' Arms Hotel, built in 1855. The hotel was rebuilt in 1883 and renamed the Panama Hotel, which was closed in July 1976.

It had recently undergone extensive structural work to bring it up to earthquake standards.

They were pleased to be able to use what they had left over from Kaikoura in the new restaurant.

The couple were after a "different style" than Ford's, and said it would be more casual, and could include shared plates.

It could be open all day, from breakfast through to dinner, and would seat 60 people.

Panama House had a big cellar, which could be converted to a wine cellar, with glass flooring so diners could see down to it, Garry Ford said.

The Fords take over the building next month, and said it would be a quick turnaround to get it opened.

They had their eyes on the building for a couple of months when they made the decision to purchase it.

"You have to move quickly when the opportunity strikes. When we saw it being reinforced, we saw that opportunity; at first we just looked at leasing it, but the opportunity came to buy it, and we thought, why not?" Garry Ford said.

They would continue to lease the upstairs space to offices.

Kerry Ford said they were not concerned about having both restaurants open, as they were used to running two businesses at time. When they had the White Morph Restaurant in Kaikoura and Ford's in Nelson they were commuting between the two. This would be "much easier", she said.

They were looking forward to being part of the new late-night initiative in Hardy St, held on the last Thursday of every month.