Queenstown hospo pair in expansion mode

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Two young guns making strides on Queenstown’s hospitality scene are approaching their two-year anniversary in expansion mode.

Future Bars co-owners James Ace and Jason Whalley recently added Cow Lane nightspot Debajo to their two-bar stable which started in September 2011 with Boiler Room and ice bar Minus 5.

The pair, who say they’ve been considering more venues in Wanaka and Christchurch, have no intention of stopping at that.

“We’d like to be the leading hospitality company in the country,” Ace – sipping water from a Peroni beer glass – boldly says from Future Bars’ upstairs office on Shotover Street.

Ace co-owns a majority stake in the company with his North Island-based uncle and says he’s keen to take on another partner and grow: “We’re looking for the next player in the group – not an investor as such but someone with the same passion for making it happen. We’d love a fulltime marketing/creative person.

“We want to be the business development dudes,” Ace says.

Whalley says part of the mojo of their management style is familiarity with their operations and all the people working in them: “We’re younger, like a beer and know every single staff member.

“We want a team of five or six going forward to lead Future Bars but at the same time each of those people needs to know the glassy’s name,” he says.

Ace and Whalley have made bold strides in two years – they took on Boiler Room and Minus 5 from former owner and North Island hospitality operator Shane Armstrong just as Queenstown’s second ice bar Below Zero started in Searle Lane. 

Ace says: “It was a brave move as the other ice bar was just opening – a few people thought it might not be the smartest move.”

Whalley says they definitely noticed an effect for almost a year when the competition opened but after that “we started growing”. 

Ace: “It shows having two is creating a heap of exposure for both companies.”

The pair rolled up their sleeves and called in mates to help get Debajo stripped and renovated in time for Winter Festival back in June, relaunching with quality DJ acts Dan Aux and visiting New York-based Kiwi P-Money. 

Whalley says with 150-plus licensed premises, the bar business is competitive and $3 handles aren’t necessarily the way forward.

The pair are aware of Debajo’s reputation for great gigs and cocktails – a bar set high by previous owner Jason ‘JD’ Clark – and they want to stick with that. 

“The music is something that draws a crowd. And the response so far from artists is incredible – a lot are coming to us,” Ace says.

Meanwhile, the hunt for the next spot continues: “We’re always looking – we don’t want to be just Queenstown forever.”