Vivacious, intelligent, inspiring, encouraging, caring and compassionate. They are but a few of the words you’d use to describe Karen Hattaway, the queen of Queenstown’s hospo industry. As she prepares to leave hospitality, she talks to Tracey Roxburgh about her journey so far, and why sometimes the bad things are good
At the tender age of 16, Karen Hattaway decided hospo wasn’t for her.
She’d just left Gore High School and picked up her first job, as a waitress at Croydon Lodge.
‘‘I got so nervous and shaky taking out the soup to the Young Farmers Federation dinner that I spilled the soup down two elderly gentlemen’s laps.
‘‘I think I burnt their willies.
‘‘The worst thing about it was I was trying to pat their willies, with a napkin … I was like, ‘oh my god, I’m so sorry’, and I’m getting the napkin, trying to pat it, and then I realised what I was doing.
‘‘It was like a Fawlty Towers scene.
‘‘I thought, ‘I’m never going to be in this industry again, I’m shit at it’.’’
From Gore, Hattaway was whāngaied at birth — a Māori custom where a child is raised by someone other than their birth parents, usually a relative.
She was eight weeks old when she was adopted by her Scottish mother and English father, who’d already adopted another child, Hattaway’s brother, who’s a year older, both of whom are Māori.
It wasn’t till she was eight and one of about 250 students at West Gore Primary, she realised she was different, after being told she and the three other ‘‘brown kids’’ at the school were ‘in the Māori club’.
‘‘It wasn’t the easiest childhood,’’ Hattaway says.
‘‘Not through [my parents’] doing, but certainly, it was quite traumatic.
‘‘But I think sometimes, the more life doesn’t go your way, it can be the making [of a person].’’
She credits her childhood for teaching her resilience, tenacity and the importance of giving a voice to those who don’t have one, and as she’s matured has realised the truth in the old saying, ‘everything happens for a reason’.
‘‘I think the most amazing thing for me is that all these things, all these traumas … we seem to look at them and think they were a bad thing to happen.
‘‘In some way, looking at my life, they were what made me me.’’
Her first career was in hairdressing — she was a partner in a company, an educator and became New Zealand’s second-best stylist, all from Gore.
In her early 30s, Hattaway was head-hunted to work as an educator for De Lorenzo in Auckland, where she worked for almost five years.
‘‘I went in and would stand with the Madonna mic, dressed in leathers with a beehive talking about the latest colours of the season.’’
Next to her office was a lunch bar, run by ‘‘this really scruffy guy … called Grant Hattaway’’.
‘‘After about a year of going in for a chicken salad sandwich, please and thank you, I agreed to have a drink [with him].
‘‘The rest is history.’’
In Auckland, the couple started their first restaurant, Zanzibar, which did ‘‘really well’’.
After selling up and moving to Queenstown, they started with some consultancy work before opening Tatler, where Madam Woo is now.
That was followed by Captains Restaurant and Pier 19.
Hattaway also started the Good Food Company, and then, almost a decade ago, Blue Kanu.
The couple eventually divorced, but remain the best of friends.
Queenstown’s also been integral in Hattaway learning more about her culture, thanks to the Tāhuna whanau, particularly Darren Rewi, Hud Rapata, Ned Wepiha and Cory Ratahi.
She quips she’s a practitioner of ‘Karen Māori — ‘‘it’s always got a ‘fab’ or a ‘darling’ mixed up in there’’.
She’s indebted to the ‘‘gracious teachers’’ in the community, who allow her to learn at her own pace, without judgement.
The resort’s also enabled her to under stand ‘whanau’.
‘‘Blood is so important, however, I think you make your own whanau.
‘‘I think within the hospitality industry — because we are a strange breed, we moan and bitch how much we hate it and we stay here for 30 years — we become our own whanau.
‘‘There’s no one else that wants to sit here and have a glass of wine and a bitch at midnight, apart from your colleagues, there’s no one else prepared to cook some food at 1am when you get home … that’s why whanau becomes so important in the industry.
“And that’s why it’s so addictive and hard to get out of.’’
After she hands over the Blue Kanu keys to new owner, Pete Jefford, on October 2, Hattaway will recharge her batteries, but has some ‘‘amazing projects’’ ahead, which she’ll work on from Cromwell, where she moved three years ago.
‘‘I think you’ll hear from me in different mediums.
‘‘There are a lot of things I really want to accomplish and I think, getting closer to a bigger birthday … it’s just time to revisit a few things that I want to knock off the list.’’
Reflecting on her 30-year hospo career, Hattaway says the secret to success is finishing.
‘‘We’ve left every one of our restaurants on a high, with plenty of meat on the bone for the next person to come in and enjoy.
‘‘I’m very proud of the work the Hattaway Hospitality Group has done … but I’m not sad at all.
‘‘With any exit, new people bring new energy, new vitality, new eyes. I think that’s always a good thing.’’