'Super proud': Margo's co-owners and Future Hospitality Group bosses James Ace, left, and Bert Haines


It’s a hell of a time to be in hospo, but two Queenstown business owners have used Covid to their advantage, taking their businesses from strength to strength, and are now in the running for a RealNZ Queenstown Business Award, up against two powerhouses in their field.

Future Hospitality Group co-owners James Ace and Bert Haines have been given an award nod for their most recent venture, Mexican-inspired restaurant Margo’s, in the MyHR Employer of the Year category — up against Fergfoods and Millbrook Resort.

‘‘To be honest, that makes me feel super proud,’’ Ace says.

‘‘They’re two very well-established brands and businesses … they’re two very aspirational businesses, so to rub shoulders in the same category as them is huge.’’

Margo’s had been five years in the planning, and was becoming a reality after Future Hospitality bought the former Britannia Restaurant, in The Mall.

Architectural plans were drawn up, the internal demo had started, the food and cocktail menus were being developed and the team was lined up and ready to go early last year.

But they didn’t plan for Covid.

Margo’s’ cost estimate had started coming in over budget, so the pair were already looking at ways to cut costs when New Zealand went into its first lockdown.

‘‘During [lockdown] we were like, ‘holy shit, we don’t even have any of the budget at a reduced capacity that we thought we had’,’’ Ace says.

‘‘So when we got out of lockdown we were like, ‘right, let’s roll up our sleeves and get in  there ourselves’.’’

Calling on local tradies and mates and putting in the hard yards themselves, Ace and Haines managed to get Margo’s fitted and kitted within a couple of months, on about 15% of the original budget.

‘‘It really surprised us how capable we are in being so resourceful,’’ Ace says.

‘‘It was pretty ad hoc and it was fly by wire, really … but we always had the vision of the food and the drinks and the atmosphere.

‘‘Fortunately, it worked out really well — people love the food, the vibrancy, the cocktails, the service and they almost love that it’s a bit streety — it’s a bit rustic.’’

The pair aren’t strangers to retro-fitting, though.

Now in their 10th year, Future Hospitality started out acquiring Minus 5 ICE BAR and Boiler Room in 2011, transforming the latter into Little Blackwood, then, in 2014, turned Debajo into Rhino’s Ski Shack.

The group entered the Auckland market in 2015, turning Ponsonby’s Bar 151 into MR TOMS and, in 2017, bought Archie Cafe — both of those were sold in 2018.

Reflecting on Margo’s first year, Ace says there have been plenty of challenges — the uncertainty around lockdowns, a few around staffing and, more recently, increasing issues
importing authentic ingredients from Mexico.

But it’s also been ‘‘an incredible time and an incredible opportunity’’.

While pre-Covid when business was booming the revenue hid ‘‘some of the smaller problems and inconsistencies’’, as soon as the tap was turned off ‘‘you’re looking at every
invoice, you’re looking at every system, you’re assessing everything you’re doing’’.

‘‘I think it’s been really good for us, for our company, to really inclusively look at everything we’re doing and I honestly believe we’re going to come out of this a lot stronger.

‘‘Where we are in our company’s history, it might be something that we look back on and go, ‘that set us up for the future’.’’