From old shed to new eatery

Phil and Allie Smith inside their newly-opened The Cow Shed Restaurant in Murchison. They are also owners of the Lazy Cow Backpackers.
Phil and Allie Smith inside their newly-opened The Cow Shed Restaurant in Murchison. They are also owners of the Lazy Cow Backpackers.

Not everyone would jump at the suggestion of turning their new living room into a restaurant, but for Murchison woman Ali Smith the idea was all the incentive she needed.

She and husband Phil have opened the Lazy Cow Shed Restaurant in Murchison.

The couple, who moved to New Zealand from Somerset, England in 2008, also run the Lazy Cow backpackers in Murchison, and the new restaurant is in an old paint and panel shed on the property.

Mrs Smith is a keen cook. The couple said they started the restaurant for Murchison locals as there was a demand for eating establishments in the town.

Mr Smith said they both liked going out and figured if they felt like that others in the town would be the same.

"There is a demand, more so in winter," Mrs Smith said.

The cosy restaurant - which is open Thursday to Saturday reservation only - has a licence for 20 people and they set the tables up to different configurations each night depending on bookings.

They change their menu every few weeks, with backpackers given the option of purchasing what has not sold.

The restaurant is also open on demand on other occasions and the couple has been asked to cook for 80th birthdays, 21sts and other anniversaries - proving the demand for what they offer.

In winter they also plan to hold themed nights and have guest chefs cook.

The outgoing couple moved to New Zealand after deciding to "do something different in life".

Mrs Smith worked in hotels, including a couple of five-star ones, and has trained as a sommelier.

Mr Smith had run the family joinery business Smith and Jones for 29 years, which is now run by a manager.

"I decided there must be something more to do in life."

Their children were in their early 20s and they decided it would be a good idea to move before they became grandparents and the moving would be too difficult.

"It was so strange leaving waving goodbye to them."

They had initially wanted to move to France, but Mrs Smith put the kibosh on that plan saying as much as she loved the country she wanted to live in a country where English was the language. She felt no matter how fluent they became in French they would still be outsiders.

The couple wanted to do something in hospitality in the South Island and after looking at a business in Nelson, decided on Murchison as it would give them the space they craved.

"I wanted to have my chooks," Mrs Smith said.

"We love it. It's a cool place and people are really friendly," Mr Smith said.

They bought the Lazy Cow backpackers which had a poor reputation and say they have turned the business around.

The backpackers had a paint and panel business on the property run from a shed which they have turned into the restaurant.

Mrs Smith uses the backpacker commercial kitchen to cook for their customers and Mr Smith waits on the tables.

Both were looking forward to their arrival of their daughter Hayley from Australia to help.

Hayley has worked with English celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall as an events manager. Mr Smith's joinery business had also done work on buildings on Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall's farm.

Mr Smith said they had no regrets at all about their massive life change and moving to Murchison.

"It was always taking a bit of a punt, but we had a good feeling about the town and the people."

They said the community had been quick to adopt them and "take them under their wing".

Mr Smith said the couple live in a small bedsit under the backpackers and had planned to do up the shed so it could be used as a sitting room.

"When we arrived everyone was asking us for dinner and we never had anywhere to invite them back.

"We used it as a lounge for six months and then some bright spark said this would be a cool little restaurant and that was all the incentive she [Ali] needed."