Joanna and Mike Howard are opening the Dragon Inn, a Welsh tapas bar, in Featherston. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER
Joanna and Mike Howard are bringing a piece of their homeland to Featherston.
The South Wairarapa couple, who moved to New Zealand from Wales in 1988, are turning the old Gusto Cafe into a small Welsh tapas bar, called the Dragon Inn.
The new joint, which adjoins the SuperValue supermarket, will open in the afternoon and provide locals and visitors alike a place to hang out in the evenings.
Mr and Mrs Howard are not new to hospitality.
In 1993, they opened the only Welsh restaurant in the Southern Hemisphere at the time in Island Bay, Wellington.
They moved the restaurant, Scorpios, to what was once known as the Taj Mahal, in the middle of Cambridge Tce, in the city centre.
Due to the limited kitchen, the Howards turned the venue into the successful Welsh Dragon Bar, which is still going strong.
“It’s completely covered in flags from our home, we’ve got the best collection of rugby shirts probably in the world, there’s hundreds of them,” Mrs Howard said.
The couple’s Featherston bar would not be as heavily Welsh themed as their Wellington one, but would feature every Welshman’s favourite beer, Brains.
The menu of small plates will include many dishes with leek, a national emblem of Wales.
Irish Stew and other “traditional home cooking” would also be served up.
“I don’t want to make it too hard for myself, we used to do 60 meals a night in the restaurant and that got too hard.”
Mrs Howard said the South Wairarapa District Council had granted the business’ liquor licence on Tuesday, and from there things would be moving fast.
The Howards hope to open the Dragon Inn, which will seat about 40 people, early next month.
To start with, they will employ at least three local people, including a full-time manager.
“We’ve been looking for something for a long time and we’ve seen lots of old buildings for sale, but there’s so many restrictions these days.
“This is ready made and lovely, and we just have to change the decor.”
The Dragon Inn would have outdoor seating and complement other businesses in town, Mrs Howard said.
The couple moved to Wairarapa 12 years ago.
“We’ve had three houses in that time and now we’re in the country we never want to leave.”