Arrowtown eateries strike gold


Two of the Wakatipu’s trendiest eateries are in Arrowtown. The owners of The Chop Shop and La Rumbla share their recipes for success with Philip Chandler

Take two young couples, steeped in hospitality. Then add healthy doses of passion, fun and personality.

In each case, she’s the maitre d’h, he’s the chef.

Each couple decides to open their first restaurant in almost-hidden premises off Arrowtown’s main drag.

La Rumbla opened almost two-and-a-half years ago, and The Chop Shop 18 months ago.

Both offer something different from the norm, but both are overnight successes.
That certainly catches Fee and Chris Whiting by surprise.

They almost reluctantly opened The Chop Shop, in cafe premises that had gone downhill since originally housing the Arrowtown branch of Joe’s Garage. 

Fee was pregnant at the time with her second child and thought she’d retired from hospitality.

But they decided Chris, a private chef, could use the space for daytime prep and serve the public on the side.

“Then we opened the doors and it just went boom,” Fee exclaims.

“Chris did 120 people by himself one Saturday and he said, ‘get me a chef, now’.”

Nowadays he employs four experienced chefs, which he admits is unusual for a cafe.

“A lot of people devote a lot of time to night-time dining but breakfast seems a bit of an after-thought.

“We thought, why don’t we apply that mentality to a day-time thing?

“There’s 28 eating establishments in Arrowtown and half of them at least would be cafes.

“We knew we had to be different _ we couldn’t offer eggs benedict and smoked salmon, because everyone else does it.”

He admits he’s very fussy about the produce he orders, but says the business would be nothing without Fee’s lively personality.

Fee: “We’ve created something that we wanted to go to, and there’s a lot of us around.

“It’s his food, my personality, our buzz, mashed into one.”

She says she’s fortunate her other maitre d’h Rex Cook shares her quirky personality: “We’re like one person trapped in two people’s bodies.”

FORMER Queenstown hospitality professionals Penelope `PJ’ Johnson and Sam Gruar were enjoying their second year in Spain when they dreamt of opening a restaurant in Arrowtown, where he owned a house.

They looked at buying an existing business before Chris James, who’d just built The Postmaster’s Precinct, convinced them to take a bunker-like corner space.

They named their business La Rumbla after the famous restaurant precinct in Barcelona, Spain.

Their concept of shared dining, serving non-traditional New Zealand fare, with the kitchen open till 11pm, took off.

“We do late, not lunch,” Johnson says.

Gruar says La Rumbla couldn’t have worked without his partner.

“PJ’s very driven and passionate about life, I’m quite happy to just sit back and be the worker.

“She was the one that really came to the conclusion that if she didn’t do something for herself she’d go crazy.”

Not that owning a business is a piece of cake.

“Some days it’s like, ‘oh goodness, when’s the boss going to come and tell us what to do?’,” Fee says.

Consistency and making everyone feel special are the ingredients to success, the couple believe.

Gruar says La Rumbla and The Chop Shop feed off each other.

“I think that Arrowtown is expected to be a traditional NZ-style environment where you’ve got your meat and three veg.

“But then we went up to The Chop Shop last Monday after a good hike and we were eating Chinese pulled pork buns, confit duck salads and all these really international and very un-NZ-style food items.

“It’s nice to go and see other people pushing the boundaries, too.”