The Dune is Mangawhai’s latest restaurant brag - offering a smart-casual Kiwi BBQ experience with all the swag of an inner city address, less the pomp or pretence. Behind this masterpiece are three unassuming blokes with distinct roles to play and colourful stories to share. Mangawhai might be home to their latest creation, but there’s also The Cove in Waipu and The Quay in Whangarei. This is a big business. To put it into perspective, at any given time you will find up to a dozen chefs in each kitchen. The owners rent eight local properties to accommodate staff, and advertising for new recruits never stops. Their own farm, Highgate Hill, supplies beef and the fresh stuff comes from The Vege Shack (more on that later). Behind the establishments are Lloyd Rooney and his partner Mike Fraser, plus Executive Chef, Craig Estick. To say they manage restaurants is a gross disservice. Restless entrepreneurs, with more projects in the pipeline, better. English-born, Lloyd is the epitome of a hospitality front man. His energy is crazy, his intellect and wit - next level. Keeping pace with his chat is tricky; it moves fast and has that Brighton dialect. Hospitality is his big love, but throw in a background in law, global interior design businesses, restaurant ownership, and now a published book – it’s a sizable life story so far. Why Northland? Lloyd feels this is an under-rated area, full of exciting growth, opportunity, and vibrant people. The beaches are what draw people in and he believes good hospitality should rub shoulders with stunning coastline.
While Lloyd is the overall facilitator, he calls Executive Chef, Craig, the ‘Mary Poppins’ of their brand, “Craig is the lifeblood of our business. He will breeze in with his latest concept; tell the staff how it is and place robust systems behind everything. He’ll then train the hell out of everyone and bugger off when satisfied.” He has utter faith in Craig and credits the success of each restaurant to his innovative menus.
While front of house and food are sorted, essentially everything starts with Mike. Getting things to the plate is not just a happy accident; Mike wears the food production hat and runs their latest baby, The Vege Shack, based in Maungakaramea. All those leafy goodies in your mojito and greens on your plate are thanks to the success of The Vege Shack – ‘Sown & Grown in Northland’s Own.’ How good is that by-line! Soon you’ll also find a pop-up Vege Shack at The Cove on Saturdays.
Small towns can be harsh critics; rub one local up the wrong way and the Facebook pages will pounce. The Dune is relaxed, yet aware of this. Lloyd’s brief to staff is the same across all three establishments; “It’s simple: hand-on-heart, do your very best on any given day – bugger a dress code, everyone is welcome and they can sit where they like. If we do these basics right, we’ll be fine. The other important thing is supporting locals. Wherever possible we’ll put money back into the community.”
How is everything juggled? Good staff is critical and Lloyd’s vision is to build an attractive brand, a place where people want to work. He will always overstaff his venues and move people around, keeping them invigorated. Complementing a great team is beautiful interior design. Lloyd has enjoyed tapping into this scene again; he formerly owned design stores ‘RevelLloyd’ in London, with Craig Revel Horwood (Dancing with the Stars judge, Celebrity Chef). Controlling light to best effect and making the space welcome is the vision behind The Dune’s decor.
About now Lloyd recounts a delightful story of working for Stoll-Moss (London’s leading theatre empire) as a young lad. On one particular occasion, his only task was to open the door for Her Majesty the Queen. Suited and booted in his red coat and a nervous blood nose later, he was ready. But Prince Phillip reached that door first and beat him to the chase – a rather awkward moment! How did we even land here? Lloyd’s mind is zippy – it doesn’t rest. Next a memory is shared of an awful design project for Kevin Spacey’s apartment…
You get the picture - the history is gritty, the stories fabulous. Even as the ink dries, the crew have two more restaurants smouldering away with 2017 launch dates.
This really is a tale of daring to dream and having the gumption to go for it.