When I attended the opening of the revitalised and completely refurbished Riwaka Hotel in December 2020, saw the fit out and gazed longingly at the huge lineup of craft beers on tap, I knew I’d found my new local.
When a rural village’s only pub closes down, it has a profound impact on the local community. This impact is felt in both the obvious loss of amenity, but also the physiological impact of having a once-flourishing local institution closed for business. I live in Riwaka and drive to my office in Mārahau most days, a route that takes me right past the Riwaka Hotel. For a couple of years, before the Riwaka Hotel was redeveloped and reopened by local entrepreneurs Angela Morris and Carsten Buschkühle in 2020, the hotel was indeed closed. Each time I drove past I could feel my mood darken a little. In other ways, Riwaka was a flourishing, multicultural village, but the pub having ceased trading, and now lying darkened and boarded up, cast a shadow over my sense of optimism.
Having gotten to know Carsten years ago, he showed me around the building just before he purchased it three years ago and talked me through his vision for the place. We walked around the building with everything looking, well, rundown and as if it had been abandoned. But as I listened to his ideas for the place, I found his enthusiasm infectious. It was immediately clear that while he wanted to modernise the place he was mindful and respectful of the hotel’s history and importance in the area. While it would be difficult to balance the present with the past and to provide an offering that met the differing priorities and tastes of locals and international visitors, this balancing act would need to be achieved if the business was going to succeed long-term. When, several months later, I learnt that Carsten had teamed up with local hospitality stalwart Angela Morris, owner/operator of Motueka’s iconic TOAD Hall for the past 17 years, my enthusiasm for having the pub operating again intensified. Then when I attended the opening of the revitalised and completely refurbished Riwaka Hotel in December 2020, saw the fit out and gazed longingly at the huge lineup of craft beers on tap, I knew I’d found my new local.
Since opening in that first summer, however, I don’t think a single person could have predicted just how challenging the next three years would be for the New Zealand hospitality industry. These challenges, firstly the direct impact of COVID-19 and then the secondary impacts such as staff shortages across the entire hospitality industry, have resulted in many cafes, pubs and restaurants around the country closing down. During this period of challenge, however, TOAD Hall and the Riwaka Hotel have not only been able to keep the doors open but have become, if anything, more important to our local community. TOAD Hall developed an affordable range of takeaways during the COVID-induced restrictions to provide the community with healthy, nutritious food. With their own market gardens right on site, TOAD Hall used their own home-grown produce to provide healthy and convenient foods such as salads, soups and sushi rolls.
Both venues continued to trade as close to ‘normal’ as was possible, to host live music and generally provide an oasis of respite from what was a time of social stress and uncertainty. Since it opened three years ago, the Riwaka Hotel has become a place where you will find multi-generation locals and visitors to the area mixing seamlessly. During a visit to the Hotel at any time you might see a long table of wizened locals discussing their last pig hunt or the current apple growing season, pouring glasses from their jugs of Speights, right next to a table of visitors from Christchurch talking quietly about the challenges they’ve had early that day backing their brand new 8.5m boat down the Kaiteriteri boat ramp. However, the engagement Angela and Carsten have in the local community runs much deeper than simply providing a wonderful place for a meal and drink. Angela is well known in the local community as a big-picture thinker who unwaveringly puts her people first. These attributes shine through in both the quality of the service at her establishments and also in the friendliness and authenticity of that service. Countless local youngsters have started their first jobs working for Angela, including Neve, our youngest daughter. I have seen firsthand how these young people, provided they are willing to work hard, are given every opportunity to flourish. They are treated with respect and are paid well above the minimum legal requirement.
Now that international visitors are returning to the area and more hopso workers available, Angela and Carsten are finally able to implement some of the things at the Riwaka Hotel that were delayed due to recent world-wide events. The plan was always for the Riwaka Hotel to have a general store to showcase products such as locally brewed craft beers, wines and food. The general store will open in October, in time for the summer season, selling the take-away foods already available at TOAD Hall, including the legendary wood-fired, gourmet pizza. Hop Federation’s Riwaka tasting room is moving to the Riwaka Hotel’s general store and there are also plans for local wines and other local goodies to be available.
I’m looking forward to these new developments this summer, but in the meantime, it’ll be a pint of Extra Special Bitter for me please Marek.
Blog by Brendan Alborn
Brendan has a long association with the Abel Tasman, visiting it for the first time when his parents moved to Marahau in 1997. After spending much of his life overseas, Brendan and his family moved to the area at the end of 2010. When Brendan is not spending his time in the outdoors he seems to spend much of his time creating even flimsier justifications for spending more time in the outdoors.