New era: Canyon Brewing's new co-owner/manager James Nicholson


Many  think they’re mad.

But James Nicholson and his business partners, James and Jane Paterson and their son, Jack, decided to look for the opportunities Covid-19’s presented — and when the chance came up to buy Canyon Brewing, they couldn’t pass it up.

The group took over the boutique Arthurs Point brewery and restaurant at the end of last year and officially launched its new era last Friday night.

Canyon was opened in the former Cavell’s building in June, 2018, by Wayfare, but it went into hibernation last March when New Zealand went into lockdown.

While the brewing side of the business has kept going, the restaurant doors stayed shut until eventually Wayfare decided to sell it.

Nicholson says while it’s been challenging, and stressful given the state of food and beverage in Queenstown at the moment, ‘‘whatever happens, people love to drink beer’’.

‘‘It’s been a little bit challenging to get up and running, obviously with the challenges facing hospo in Queenstown, but we did it.’’

The ethos behind the business is simple: ‘‘everyone’s a local’’.

‘‘We’re not doing a ‘locals’ card’; we’ve priced everything so everyone’s a local.

‘‘If you’re a tourist … you want to eat and drink where the locals are.

‘‘It works for the Boatshed and we’re hoping it’ll work for here.’’

Originally from Leeds, in the UK, Nicholson came to Queenstown ‘‘for the ski season’’ a decade ago and never left.

He started working at Hilton Queenstown before moving to manage the The Boatshed Cafe and Bistro and then went out to Jack’s Point to manage its food and beverage offering.

When James and Jane Paterson bought the Boatshed business in September, 2019, Nicholson — who says he’s always had a soft spot for it — came on board as a business partner and went back as an owner.

There, he says they’ve driven the locals’ market — helped latterly by the post-lockdown ‘‘shop local’’ push — and that’s something they’re now hoping to do at Canyon.

‘‘[Wayfare] spent a lot of money doing it up, but their business model is slightly different to our model.

‘‘We’re effectively in the locals’ market and then, eventually, the tourist market.’’

That in mind, local art’s dotted around the walls — all of it’s for sale and will be rotated regularly.

The revamped share-style menu’s designed to complement the beer, brewed on site by head brewer Grant Radka, recruited from Samoa, and assistant brewer Kit Baker, a distiller for Rifters Gin, both initially hired by Wayfare.

They, along with manager Mitchell Turner continued working for the brewery under the former ownership and stayed on when the business changed hands.

Nicholson says at present they’ve got 14 staff on board, but they’re still recruiting.

‘‘We’ve actually been really lucky, we’ve sponsored two [staff] — everyone else … is either a Kiwi or Australian citizen.‘‘We’ve spent the extra bit of time to recruit the right people instead of panic hiring.

‘‘If you take that extra few weeks … you retain them and just begin creating a culture and making it a cool place to work.’’

Aiming to have something different every night of the week, including a Monday night quiz and live music at the weekends, following the success of a courtesy coach for its launch party, Nicholson says they’ll ‘‘100%’’ purchase one.

It’ll likely run on a schedule over weekends and on-demand through the week to get people to and from the venue, without having to worry about their own wheels.