This duo found their Covid silver lining by opening their dream hospitality haven

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1 January 1970

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Hayz Picheira and Jess Morris are feeding their passion with The Falls Bistro.

Friends Hayz Picheira and Jess Morris were working at a coffee cart during Level 3 lockdown last year when a brilliant business idea sprang to mind.

The pair, both seasoned hospitality managers, heard whispers about a beautiful 1800s building up for lease in their West Auckland neighbourhood. Six months later, despite the pandemic having dire consequences for hundreds of hospitality businesses throughout Aotearoa, they turned it into a bustling new Mediterranean-style café and restaurant, The Falls Bistro.

“During lockdown, customers had mentioned that the historic Falls Hotel building in Henderson was up for lease, close to where we live,” recalls Hayz, 34. “It gave us the crazy idea to open our own place and so we rang the owners, who were interested in seeing a business plan. Then we got all our ducks in a row.” Together, Hayz and Jess discussed the possibilities of hosting weddings and high teas in the venue’s open conservatory, which has floor to ceiling windows showcasing expansive lawn on one side and a forest on the other.

When Level 2 rolled around in May 2020, the pair started approaching banks. Not only was there the cost of kitchenware, furnishings and stock to consider, but the duo’s dream building needed renovation work. “The banks needed something insane like a 30-40% deposit, because apart from tourism, the restaurant industry was the most uncertain,” says Jess, 29. “If you’re a professional hospitality person working front of house, you’re never going to be a millionaire. You do it for the people and because you love it.”

Eventually, Hayz says, a couple of locals offered to invest. “It was really exciting. We took our plans to the Norcross Trust, who own the building, and it was all set to go ahead.” Then Auckland went into a second Level 3 lockdown and the investors pulled out. “It was literally a day and a half before we were going to sign the papers. We just went, ‘Well, that was fun,’ and had to laugh because otherwise we’d cry.”

Fortunately, a man on the building’s board of trustees approached the coffee cart and suggested the women hand their business plan directly to the trust. They did and the trust offered its financial support.

“It was really exciting, but before we could open, the kitchen had to be ripped out and redone. We’d learnt oil had leaked into the floor and was a hazard,” Hayz says.

“Then everything we ordered for the kitchen and front of house went to the wrong address, and our crockery arrived almost a month late because it came from Melbourne.”

But The Falls Bistro opened without a glitch in November last year, enjoying a smooth first Christmas season, according to Hayz. “We had heaps of local businesses book in for functions and it’s still going well despite the lockdowns, which make things manic. With all the uncertainty, we need to be able to adapt quickly and easily.”

From a humble coffee cart to a historic hotel, Hayz (left) and Jess turned a spark into a bustling business.

Part of their success is having Hayz’s husband Cristian, 41, on board as head chef at the restaurant, while Jess’ hubby Brad, 42, works behind the bar and coffee machine. Together, the ladies run the front of house.

“One minute we were in a trailer talking about combining our skills to create future income, and now we have a team of 12!” Jess says. “We’re actually really grateful for that time we had because of lockdown.”

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