When the owners of The Oyster Inn moved to New Zealand they never intended to open a restaurant, let alone a hotel. Two years on, they are the proprietors of a local institution and a winning brand.
Increasingly known for its vineyards, sandy beaches and extra virgin olive oil, Waiheke Island is an idyllic spot 35 minutes by fast ferry from downtown Auckland. In the main village of Oneroa, just up from a gentle curve of white sand, is The Oyster Inn. Part hotel, part restaurant, the inn is a charming project that opened late last year, set up by Andrew Glenn and Jonathan Rutherfurd Best. The duo moved back to New Zealand in 2010 from London, where they worked for 15 years in marketing and in the catering industry respectively.
Not long after they landed, both fell in love with Waiheke and bought a piece of land on a whim. Actually owning the Inn came a bit back to front. They weren’t looking to start a restaurant in the first place – although Rutherfurd Best admits to always having fancied a seaside inn – but when they walked up the ramp and looked in through the windows of what was then an abandoned restaurant, they couldn’t resist. “We wanted an environment where you came up the stairs and left the world behind,” says Glenn. “Our greatest desire was that people would feel this was a local place, that they could feel familiar with it.”
The concept came together in days but making it happen took a year. Across a fern-filled atrium they built a private dining room, three airy guestrooms and a small shop selling beachwear from The Waihetian, Saturdays Surf and Streetwear and locals Belle and Beau.
From the shop buyers can catch a whiff of the food being prepared by chef Christian Hossack. Formerly of the Providores restaurant in London, Hossack has created a seasonal menu that is casual and unpretentious and which focuses on fresh seafood. Food is served on tables made from rimu wood – a strong native timber – reclaimed, in this case, from an old hotel that was damaged in the Christchurch earthquake. The dining room is completed with Thonet bentwood chairs and the knives and forks were sourced in French flea markets.
Having a meal at the Oyster Inn is just half of the fun; some of the guests end up staying the weekend. “Our guestrooms are inspired by the classic Kiwi ‘bach’, the vernacular beach house that all New Zealanders grew up with,” says Glenn. “But we updated it with a modern, fresh and stylish rethink,” adds Rutherfurd Best. To achieve their vision for the place the former Londoners called upon local designer Katie Lockhart. She encouraged them to keep things simple and warm, incorporating their extensive collection of works by local artists such as Dan Arps, Shane Cotton and Denis O’Connor, and even displaying family photos in each of the quarters. To help make the guests’ stay still more memorable, visitors are collected from the ferry terminal in The Oyster Inn’s own vintage yellow-and-white Volkswagen Kombi and presented with a pair of Havaianas in the same signature colours, both branded with the Inn’s logo, which was created by Heath Lowe and Emma Kaniuk at Special Group design studio. And if that isn’t tempting enough and you’re still pressed to return to the city, you should at least try to make time for a long drink. With a pitcher of the Oyster’s homemade sangria or a glass of their bespoke Riesling from the Two Paddocks vineyard in hand, sunsets in Waiheke seem to never end.
- Collaborate with talented people. The duo worked with Katie Lockhart for the interiors, Special Group on the identity, Hard Hat Design for the website and White Build & Design for the cabinetry.
- Work with a great builder. Quality and delivery are essential for long-term success. The team used HD Building for the construction works.
- When in doubt, leave it out; keep the focus on simple, clean design.
- Create a strong brand identity from your webpage to your logo. A clear brand vision that communicates authenticity is vital.
- Don’t rush to open – they spent six weeks trialling the menu and rooms to ensure what was released to the public was of optimum quality and presentation.