Old pub but new-style hospitality
Bruce Milne reckons there is plenty of life left in country pubs - as long as they are run the right way.
The former Christchurch man bought the Makikihi Country Hotel two years ago. He was no stranger to the old hotel. In his younger days, it was the stop-off pub on the way home from Christchurch for his Dunedin Zingari Rugby Club's end-of-season weekend.
The former bus driver had stayed in many hotels over the years, and when health issues meant a change of career was required, he bought the hotel.
The 1929 building was in a sad way. It had had five owners in the previous 7 years. Once the kitchen was up to scratch, the next stage was to completely redo the eight bedrooms and install new bathrooms. The timberwork, which would have been a feature of the old hotel, was reinstalled, windows were double glazed, and all the rooms refurbished.
With a large carpark adjacent to the hotel, it has become a favourite with truckies as there is room to park seven truck and trailer units.
It is a trade which has increased by word of mouth. And it is a trade Milne is happy to have, saying truckies are pretty easy to please as long as they have a comfortable bed, warm room, good shower and meal.
But he is not relying on truckies alone.
"I had two forestry workers here last year and they are coming back for three months," he said of the need for longer term accommodation.
There is a hot meal ready for them when they get home at night, and they can leave for work with a packed lunch box in the morning.
Mr Milne reckons there is a real market for such accommodation and has plans to install more cabin-type rooms behind the hotel. He already has a couple of "backpacker" units which he says are surprisingly well patronised.
Work on the next part of the hotel's revamp, adding a deck and conservatory, will effectively double the size of the dining room, meaning groups of 40-plus could be accommodated.
"They are probably not going to like me in Timaru," Milne quips of his plan to attract the social club and group outing market.
He already has a minivan which he uses to pick up patrons and return them home. That service is a necessity if he is to attract groups who do not have to rely on finding sober drivers.
But his plans are for more. Already he is finding the minivan is not large enough for some groups who want to go to the hotel for dinner and a night out. His thoughts are moving to an old bus which could seat 30 or more and be part of a transport/dinner package.
The locals are also starting to come back now they realise Milne is there to stay.
"I want to keep the old place going," he said, adding if he can keep the customers happy, the old country hotel will be part of Makikihi and South Canterbury for a long time yet.
- The Timaru Herald