Grant Harding has got to know Lone Star proprietor ‘Tom’ Roseingrave by social osmosis [the process of gradual or unconscious assimilation of knowledge]. It is how many people get to know Tom, who makes it his business to get out among his patrons to have a chat. On his rounds he’s always stopped to talk to Grant’s fiancée [a devotee of the Dixon St venue], and gradually through listening, Grant’s heard a story emerge of a family man, a businessman and a rugby referee. On Thursday afternoon before opening time, Grant went to Lone Star to have his first real chat with Tom and found there are a couple of major plot twists in his tale.
Thomas Alexander Roseingrave. What’s in a name?
“It’s a bit weird and it’s always hard to fill all the boxes in on a form when you’ve got a Christian name like Thomas and your middle name’s Alexander and your surname is Roseingrave – it doesn’t make for great reading … but that’s a family thing, it has Irish origins,” Tom, the name most use for the Lone Star proprietor, says.
“My mum and dad were Wairarapa people. My mum [Zita] was a Robinson from Robinson’s Nursery, so she grew up at the nursery on Ngaumutawa Rd. It’s still there today – still called Robinson’s.
“Dad [John] was a chartered accountant in town and owned various businesses. I had one brother [Martin] and one sister [Margaret] – both younger.”
But this is where the first twist in the tale comes. Tom, his brother and his sister were all adopted – separately.
“Catholic family – late 60s and it wasn’t the done thing to have a child out of wedlock so away I went.”
It’s the only time I detect any kind of hurt in Tom’s eyes while we talk ‘being adopted’, because there is one thing you get clear on when talking to him – his mum and dad are John and Zita, both of whom have now passed.
They gave their family a good childhood – “a really cruisy lifestyle” – and solid education, which for Tom included three years as a boarder at St Patrick’s College Silverstream, where he made many lifelong friends. But his best friend was yet to come – his wife, Michelle. They’ve been together more than 30 years, married for 26 of them.
It was when they decided to start a family that Tom thought he should find his biological mother.
“I never really had a great interest until we got married. I said to Michelle ‘maybe it’s something we should try and pursue to see if there is some lineage in the health line that we need to be aware of’.”
Bizarrely, a birth certificate allowed Tom to find her living just down the road from his Carterton home [“I married a Lett, a strong rugby family from Carterton, so I didn’t have any choice where I lived.”].
“She [Cathy] lived in Greytown with her family. She had been away and done a lot of things and come back. So, we got to know them reasonably well, got accepted in, just treated them like they were good friends of the family. That’s how it’s been.”
Cathy and her husband are now living in Australia.
“My birth father [Darryl] I’ve only recently found. I’ve known who he was, and only recently taken the plunge. And we get on pretty well. He’s in Nelson.
“You see a television programme like Lost and Found … I don’t hold quite as much emotion around it as some of those people do because I went through my whole life as comfortable as anything that I was who I was, and it never made any difference to me. But it’s been good for my kids to find their grandparents.
“It’s probably no lightning bolt but it’s been something that I’ve been glad I’ve done, and now we’ve got great relationships and that can be ongoing for my kids with their cousins as well.”
The punchline is that Tom is the eldest of 13 children. There are his two Roseingrave siblings, Cathy’s five children [three boys and two girls], and Darryl’s five children [four boys and one girl].
“With Cathy’s family – I’m very close to some of them, and I can see in the future there will be stronger relationships forged on Darryl’s side.
“It was something that mum and dad never ever made any bones about. We knew from the youngest of ages that we were all adopted.
“You look back and think, what could have been. But you can’t live your life like that. I will never refer to John and Zita as anything but ‘Mum and Dad’. Cathy and Darryl are obviously people in my life. I have a biological connection to them, but they’ll never be referred to as mum or dad.”
We move on to the second twist in the tale. How did Tom come to bring the Lone Star franchise to Masterton? Or more precisely how did a Massey University graduate with a property management and valuation degree end up in hospitality?
It’s not a simple story. First there was a downturn in the commercial property sector in the early 1990s and he couldn’t find a job.
“My father gave me a year, and said if you don’t get a job, you’re going to be an accountant.”
Tom says he fought the notion “vigorously” but “one year later I was working for him as a trainee accountant”.
He completed an accountancy degree extramurally, passed his chartered accountancy exams [CA], and commuted to Wellington to work in the corporate/commercial world for six years, while at the same time he and Michelle set up and operated both Video Ezy Masterton and Carterton.
When his father passed away 15 years ago, he bought into his practice. For more than a decade he ran Roseingrave & Vallance, alongside Andrew Vallance.
Then he did have a lightning bolt moment.
“I said, ‘I’m really not an accountant. Square peg in a round hole – what do I want to do?’.”
He laughs as he tells how he addressed his midlife crisis with Michelle: “‘It’s either a divorce or change something – I think the divorce is too expensive so we’ll stick together’. I met a guy who knew a guy who was a good friend of mine at school and the other guy was the director of Lone Star and one thing led to another. There may have been some alcohol involved and we ended up thinking this could be something that we’d quite like to do.
“This was a joint project between us and Masterton Trust Lands Trust. Gary Percy was their GM at the time. We got together. We were looking for a site and they were basically ready to knock this building over as part of their programme of needing to divest a few earthquake prone buildings.
“This was basically tenanted by a whole lot of wild cats. So, we got together, drew some plans up. It was about a $2,500,000 project – not all my money!
“But we fitted it out and they earthquake strengthened it and did a lot of the structural stuff which enabled us to do what we wanted to do.
“They’re still the landlord – we own the business, they own the building and land. It was a win-win.”
Masterton’s Lone Star was the newest and brightest cowboy on the hospitality scene when it opened in September of 2014, and Tom and Michelle had found their niche.
“We like interacting with people, and one of the good things about this business was bringing this to the town and giving the town another option.”
Lone Star is a brand with 30 years history. There are 27 franchises in New Zealand. There are rules to abide by.
The menu is standardised. The branding is standardised.
But it has been moving with the times – duck and venison are now on the menu along with an all-time favourite like the ‘wagon wheel’. You don’t reinvent the wheel.
While Tom says that Lone Star is a restaurant/bar – it does have two late nights a week, Friday and Saturday.
Being a late-night option in a small town has its downsides, but Tom says a good attitude and good staff maintains a good standard of behaviour.
“Our whole ethos of why we’re here is actually for people to enjoy themselves and have a bit of fun. It takes a lot of management later on. If you treat the guests with the respect that they deserve, and they can understand that you’re coming from a point where I’m not allowed to serve you alcohol beyond this point … I think it works pretty well.”
If Tom has a hospitality skill – it’s his personable nature. Whenever one of his staff can’t find him, he’ll be deep in the bowels of the Lone Star chatting with the patrons, with one ear on the music.
Music is a big part of his life. He admits to having been a bad “sausage-fingered” piano player in his youth, but there is a musical talent.
“Just about any song that comes on the radio, I can sing most of the lyrics. I take a fair bit of pride in knowing just about every song that comes on. That’s part of what I love here.”
Then there’s the opportunities he’s been able to give his family – he and Michelle have four children, three sons [Victoria University student Cameron, 22, Hayden 20 and Liam 16] and 10-year-old daughter, Tara.
The boys have all followed Tom through Silverstream, and during their educational breaks worked at the Lone Star – “really good experience”.
Not that it’s Tom and Michelle’s only business. They’ve been running Joe’s Garage, a café in Tory St in Wellington, for more than a year now.
“It’s basically the café side of the Lone Star. We’re looking for another site in Wellington for another Joe’s Garage – as if we aren’t busy enough.”
Ultimately the cafés may win over the restaurant/bar, but for now they remain committed to the Lone Star.
Tom’s not a guy to sit still.
He’s on the finance committee for the Wairarapa Catholic Parish, the board of proprietors at Silverstream, chairman of the board of trustees at St Mary’s School in Carterton, where his daughter attends, and is on the Wairarapa-Bush Rugby Referees Association, and was chairman up until last year.
“I still actively referee … I think that’s why I’ve got no hair,” he quips.
Tom took up the whistle in his early 30s and has refereed more than 100 premier club matches since, the most recent being East Coast against Masterton Red Star this year.
“Before the game I bought every roll of insulation tape in Masterton.”
So, Tom, why did Glen Jackson, who has been New Zealand Referee of the Year five times since 2012, not get the Rugby World Cup refereeing gig?
“Do you form your game around what you think the selectors and assessors want or do you just go out and be yourself?
“I think Glen Jackson’s just gone out and been himself. He’s an ex-player so that probably makes him a little looser in refereeing the game.
“I would call Glen Jackson a players’ referee. Certainly, the players would say they enjoy him refereeing them – just the fluidity, but it maybe doesn’t quite fit the way that the hierarchy like it.”
Tom says he’s not great to be around when the All Blacks are on the Lone Star’s television sets.
“I’m probably the worst person to watch the All Blacks with because I’m screaming and yelling at the referee. I can fully appreciate where people come from.
“But it’s a hard ask to please everyone, a referee is never going to please everyone – we’re going to make muck-ups, that’s just human. Own them, get on with it and don’t dwell on them for too long.”
A few quick questions.
If you could invite one person for a drink at the Lone Star who would it be?
“That’s so hard. There’d be so many people. If I looked at it from a sporting perspective, I’d probably love to have a drink with Kenny Dalglish.
“I’m a great Liverpool fan, and ‘King Kenny’ was someone, growing up in the 70s and 80s, that you saw a lot of. We recently visited England to see our son who was over there, and on my bucket list was to go to Anfield and we did that. It was a super cool moment.
“My second son – our flatmate, you know how everyone has one of those flatmates that you try and move on – is a Tottenham Hotspur fan, so I’m not sure what it’s going to be like on Queen’s Birthday Sunday in our house when the UEFA Champions League final is on – Liverpool v Spurs. We’ll have to draw some boundary lines in the lounge.”
That’s the thing with hospitality – you have to be good with a yarn.
As a cocktail shaker, Bryan Brown or Tom Cruise?
“I’d have to be Tom Cruise,” he says laughing.
What’s your mantra?
“Nike’s Just Do It, and Carpe Diem – seize the day.
“If I try and instil anything in the kids it’s just back yourself and have a go – but hey, let’s calculate things out first. I am an accountant. Let’s have a look at it and if it feels right you do it. We’re not here for a long time are we … so you may as well have a go at it while you’re here, please yourself and set your own levels and if you reach them that’s great, but don’t worry about what other people think. Just get on with doing it yourself. But I always maintain calculate it out first.”
Maybe, he should have added, “and ask Michelle”.
“Michelle and I have worked in partnership together forever and as far as I’m concerned that’s the way we make things work because we communicate, we talk, we subscribe to the same ideas of where we want to go, what we want to do – and sometimes there are sacrifices.
“I saw my parents working very hard but still managing to do what they wanted to do and giving us as kids a real balance. We never felt that we never saw our mum and dad because they were working all the time.
They managed to do what they needed to do.”
That’s Tom Roseingrave – not a lone star.