Top Sydney restaurateur exits for NZ opportunities

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Top Sydney restaurateur exits for NZ opportunities

Sydney-based chef and restaurateur Warren Turnbull is selling his fine diner Assiette and relocating to New Zealand where he's said the wages and rent situation is better for business owners.

Turnbull's move to sell the seven year old Surry Hills restaurant follows on the heels of a series of other closures of other eateries in the restaurant-heavy suburb, including Alex Herbert's Bird Cow Fish and Jared Ingersoll's Cotton Duck.

The chef, who is from New Zealand, said he will retain his more casual District Dining operation which he opened 18 months ago in Surry Hills, and then followed its success by expanding the brand to NZ with the opening of an Auckland restaurant at the end of last year.

Turnbull told Hospitality the decision to relocate also follows the huge success of his Auckland eatery Mexico, which began as a "pop-up" during the rugby world cup but has been so well received that it was made permanent in its location in the trendy new precinct of Britomart, the former run down area of Auckland that has been transformed into an upmarket entertainment and retail destination that has preserved and refurbished the historic buildings in the area.

He is now preparing to open a second branch of Mexico in June or July in a new retail complex being constructed at the upmarket Auckland beach side suburb of Takapunu Beach.

"We were just amazed by how popular [the pop up] was and then this opportunity came up for us to open the second one," Turnbull said.

He is also now in the process of finalising arrangements for another restaurant project in the Britomart area. The new restaurant will be housed in "amazing" glass covered venue that will part of a second phase of the precinct that will feature high end fashion retail and car brands.

"We're hoping to have that up and running by October, in time for Christmas," said Turnbull.

Turnbull said he had made the decision to close Assiette to be able to better concentrate on his growing businesses in New Zealand, which offers a better environment for businesses in terms of rents and wages.

"Fine dining needs to have a lot of love, its just tough," he said. "It's done well but it's very tough to make a dollar in fine dining, with the way trends are going.

"And I look at the District Dining figures and I think it is so good, so great, and then now I look at Mexico's figures and I'm l, like this is incredible.

"it's what people want, it's unbelieveable, and you don't need top chefs, you don't need the best front of house staff."

Turnbull said that the environment for businesses was much easier in Auckland compared to Sydney.

"Rents are cheaper and landlords will bend over backwards much more than here in Sydney," he said.

"And with wages, we always try to always look after our staff and pay more than the average but then there is no compulsory super so that is a big chunk that employers aren't having to pay."

"Your wages and rents are obviously the biggest concerns for a restaurant so if you can know those on the head you are half way there.'


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