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Restaurant founders bowing out

After transforming Featherston’s hospitality and degustation scene over the past seven years, the founders of the Brac and Bow restaurant and bar have put their beloved business on the market.

John Richards and Theo Wijnsma – who cite new ventures as the reason for selling up – first moved from Wellington to Featherston in 2017, prompting their family and friends to question their sanity, according to Richards.

“We decided to jump into the unknown,” Richards said.

“Our family and friends thought we were nuts leaving the security of good Wellington jobs.”

They bought the former Chapelli’s with a vision of what the dilapidated building could become with a little love and care and spent the next six months restoring the premises.

“When we took it over, we had to work it out as we went – we had good knowledge of restaurant and hotel management but no idea of what it was like to own one,” Richards said.

“It finally started to look like ours, a place we would be proud to welcome people, for groups of friends to come together and celebrate local food and wine.”

The pair ran Brac and Bow from that site for around three and a half years before relocating to the Royal Hotel Featherston and taking over management there, which Richards said meant more room to run a bigger operation.

“We began to do things that the old building could never have coped with,” Richards said.

“We wanted everything to reflect the quality and style we appreciate and to ensure everyone knew where we were, with new signage, outdoor planters, stunning crystal chandeliers, updated furnishings and guest rooms.”

This included various catering operations, degustation events, and having more creative freedom to experiment with different themes and styles, with the formal dining room named after beloved Featherston author Joy Cowley.

Notable innovations the duo offered at Brac and Bow over the years include making the space available for weddings, theatrical functions, and themed dinners, which Richards said created memorable experiences for patrons.

“We tried to create and enjoy the process of being a small business in a small town and showing we can actually be a standout.,” Richards said.

“You’ve got to have your head screwed on and really look at the numbers and analyse the business, but also be open to trying new things and have fun along the way.”

Although the hospitality industry has had a rough ride over the past few years, Richards is optimistic about how the business is placed heading into 2024 – and beyond.

“It’s really picking up, we’ve got huge amounts of domestic travel,” he said.

“Featherston can definitely be the silent one in South Wairarapa when compared to Martinborough and Greytown, but we find we get people for dinner and accommodation the night before they head to Martinborough, so it definitely works really well.”

With weddings booked for their catering business until 2027, Richards said they will still be part of the local community, with an opportunity to travel to Holland also on the horizon.

The business is listed on TradeMe, and Richards said he has already received several enquiries.

“We’d like someone to take it over who actually loves it like us – it’s important that it goes into the right hands.”

Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary
Bella Cleary is a reporter at the Wairarapa Times-Age, originally hailing from Wellington. She is interested in social issues and writes about the local arts and culture scene.

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