'There could be a pop-up Pumice', says chef

FOCUSED: Pumice Food Group owner David Kerr says he is determined to rebuild the restaurant.
FOCUSED: Pumice Food Group owner David Kerr says he is determined to rebuild the restaurant.

A lifeline may be thrown to the staff of Hamilton restaurant Pumice, who face unemployment after a fire destroyed the popular Te Rapa eatery in the early hours of Sunday.

The restaurant's head chef, Carl Houben, said there may be job opportunities for the 20 to 30 fulltime and part-time staff within the Pumice Food Group, which included Hamilton Gardens Cafe and Kerr & Ladbrook Catering.

"Nothing is set in concrete with the staff but at the end of the day there are other parts of the business so we're not left completely high and dry," he said.

"There could be a pop-up Pumice maybe, who knows?

"Going into the wedding season there is work available, but that's all I can really say about that at the moment."

The fire inspired a case of deja vu for Mr Houben because a former workplace, Cafe en Q, in Queenwood Village, also burnt down after an electrical fault in 2002. Since then Mr Houben has been extra diligent with safety in the workplace. And in the case of the latest fire, he is certain that staff took all possible safety precautions. "I've always stressed kitchen safety in that area - we are pretty adamant we were clear."

Lawrenson Group owner John Lawrenson said he would be prepared to offer staff temporary employment in his restaurants if Pumice Food Group owner David Kerr needed it.

"We are working under the assumption that [Pumice Food Group] will be providing work for their staff in their other businesses, but if they came to us through systems then definitely we would lend a hand."

Mr Houben said the main priority for owner David Kerr was working out the cause of the fire.

Fire safety investigator Ross Fleet said he was confident the fire was accidental. However, he would not divulge what the exact cause was or where in the building it started. "We've located what the origin of the fire was and at this stage the fire remains as we initially thought, accidental. I'm not going to give you specifics."

Specialist fire investigator Peter Hallet said yesterday that insurance investigators were analysing several electrical items pulled from Pumice's charred remains.

"The insurance people are still investigating and until that is complete we don't have a cause we can pin it on directly."

Waikato Times food writer Denise Irvine followed the progress of the restaurant from its opening in 2008 and said Pumice was a valuable stake in the growing Hamilton North community.

"This was [Pumice Food Group's] flagship and it was so entrenched in the Hamilton hospitality industry.

"I can't remember another case like this in Hamilton with such serious damage."

Pumice Food Group owner David Kerr could not be reached for comment. 

Waikato Times