Queenstown’s longest-serving licensee is calling time just two months shy of 30 years in the same premises.
Grant ‘Spud’ Murphy, who originally bought into Chico’s Bar & Grill with his father Gordon and another partner in 1986, has sold the well-known nightspot in The Mall to Wai Dining Group, which owns three other local restaurants.
The sale includes the ground-floor Old Man Rock cafe/bar which Grant and his wife Lisa, whom he met in the mid-1990s, opened in ’99.
Grant says they’d had their businesses for sale for five years but took them off the market about 18 months ago when they found a good manager for Chico’s.
“[The new owners] just walked off the street, they said ‘we’re keen to buy it’ and I said, ‘I’m not really for sale any more’, so they made it attractive enough for me to look at it.
“I only had two years left on my lease so I was going to have to commit for another 10 years and invest in upgrading the place a bit, because it’s got a bit tired.
“These boys have come along and taken on that challenge.”
The new owners bought last October but allowed the Murphys to continue trading this past summer.
“It’s been amazing trade for everyone so that’s worked out quite well,” Grant says.
He believes being owner/operators has been a key to his and Lisa’s success.
“At Old Man Rock she’s been out the front and now she’s working in the kitchen, and I’m the guy who’s bringing you your coffee or pouring you your beer.”
Honest food’s also important, he says.
“People just want fair value for money - they want to know a ‘big breakfast’ is a big breakfast and when you get a steak at night they want to know it’s at least going to be 250 to 300 grams.”
Grant says he’s just carried on the original concept of Chico’s, which was started by Chico Lanz and his wife Christine in 1981.
“Their original idea was a dine and dance type of thing or food and entertainment.
“It’s been a great idea and I’ve just developed it.”
He praises his two local landlords, initially John Martin and latterly Matt Paterson.
“I remember one year John Martin put my rent down because I was struggling but he got his pound of flesh a couple of years later when the market changed.”
Grant’s also seen a lot of change in closing hours for licensed premises - which for Chico’s nowadays is 3.30am.
“We used to close at 1.30am but pubs like Eichardt’s and Mountaineer closed at 10pm.
“We then went for 24-hour licences for five years - the worst part was that people didn’t come in till 2am until we closed, usually about 7-8am.”
A 2.30am closing hour was then instigated, which Grant thinks was too early, before the current 4am closing rule was introduced.
“I think 4am’s a really good time because it gives the town time to tidy itself up.”
Grant says Old Man Rock has been brilliant.
“It’s been, without sounding terrible, the Fergburger of The Mall or cafes in town.”
He says he’d have kept the cafe in a heartbeat but it had to be sold alongside the upstairs bar/restaurant as it shares the same kitchen as Chico’s.
“I’ve had the most fantastic time, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Grant, 51, and Lisa, 41, have bought a food caravan which they’ll operate at events from next summer.
Meantime, their last night’s trading at Chico’s will be on April 16, followed by their last day at Old Man Rock.