Loss of tourists “hard blow”, the gourmet restaurant Mela in Auckland to close

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The loss of international tourists has dealt “a heavy blow” to Auckland’s renowned number 5 restaurant, Mela, which will close later this month after nearly two years focused on staying afloat.

Owner and executive chef Jack Crosti, who previously worked at well-known Auckland restaurants Sidart and Beirut, bought the decades-old fine dining restaurant in 2019, remodeling it with his wife, Caitlin, and reopening in late 2019.

By the time Covid-19 arrived, it had been operating at full capacity for only three months, and it has not recovered, he said. For the past 16 months, he has run the kitchen on his own, working 18 to 20 hours a day for the company.

“Obviously it affected my mental health enormously,” Crosti said.

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Despite government financial support, Covid restrictions and border closures have hit many hotel businesses hard, including some of the country’s most famous restaurants. Auckland’s popular restaurant Euro closed last year after 22 years, blaming the pandemic.

The Restaurant Association said late last year that around 13,000 jobs in the industry were lost after around 1,000 businesses closed.

Crosti said he had gone through dark times, but was surrounded by friends who had helped him a lot.

“Caitlin, my wife, was the person who really supported me the most and gave me the energy and motivation to keep going.

“But I’ve reached a point where I’m feeling exhausted mentally and physically, I enjoy what I’m doing, but I don’t know if it’s worth sacrificing my health for this game.”

Renamed at the end of 2020, Mela was named one of Auckland’s best restaurants in 2021 by Metro magazine.

Before Covid, contracts with foreign tourism companies in Japan, China and Singapore insured an average of 30 to 40 guests three to four times a week. Other tourists, from New Zealand and around the world, stayed at the nearby Cordis Hotel and dined at Mela.

The total loss of international tourism “has been a huge blow to our business,” he said.

Crosti borrowed money to keep the restaurant alive, expecting things to improve.

“I had to reduce a lot of expenses for the company, but never sacrificing the quality of the product we served. Cutting expenses meant cutting staff, but there’s hardly anyone to hire anyway. “

Despite the difficulties, Crosti would not advise anyone against opening a restaurant.

PROVIDED

Despite the difficulties, Crosti would not advise anyone against opening a restaurant.

The restaurant was not sustainable with only half open, he said.

The budget was drastically reduced after each lockdown, and it was not possible to expand or change the way he ran the business.

For Crosti, who was born in Italy and worked as a chef in other countries before coming to New Zealand, the decision to close was one of the most difficult he has made.

“My wife and I have invested heavily in the development of Mela, with hundreds of hours of renovation to make this place something that represents who we are, every detail of the restaurant has meaning and a little story behind it.

“I’m very attached to it emotionally, we did everything ourselves. It was a dream come true. “

The last service would take place on January 29.

“After that, I plan to be out of the kitchens for a while to focus more on myself and my sanity,” he said.

“I will definitely be in the hospitality business, but in a different way for the foreseeable future. “

The uncertainty around Covid has made the industry nearly impossible for many people, he said.

“Each report stresses you out and you constantly wonder if there will be another lockdown and when.”

The staff shortage was also unprecedented, he said, and even famous restaurants such as Fleur’s Place in Moeraki had to close because staff did not want to be vaccinated.

But despite the difficulties, he would not advise anyone to open a restaurant.

“In fact, starting now is probably a good time to do it with the knowledge we’ve gained, and with things improving slightly, I’m seeing some growth in the hospitality industry and in the market.

“It won’t be the same hospitality we remembered two years ago, probably a little more difficult but not impossible.”

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