Jeremy Turner, owner of Cibo restaurant in Parnell, Auckland started as a co-owner when it opened more than 25 years ago, and has been owner for around 18 years.
Fabulous! Modern New Zealand food using the highest quality ingredients and a dash of Asian influence. People have always struggled to put Cibo in a category. Fine dining? I can’t stand that expression. Yes, we spend $50,000 a year to have linen on the tables, but it’s all about our relationship with the customers. We know them by name. I would say that we know 75% or more of our regular customers.
What is the secret to your success?
It’s owner-operated. And our chef [Kate Fay] who writes the menu works in the business. Kate’s amazing food, backed up by her sense of care and duty to producing great food. Everyone talks about a culture. But you can’t actually buy a culture in hospitality. Unless you’re there in the trenches with the staff showing them how to do it, loving them and loving your customers day in day out.
Atmosphere is everything. I want it to be a fun place for everyone. If the staff are having a great time so are the customers. I can’t look after every table in the restaurant. I look after the staff and they, in turn, look after everyone.
How was lockdown?
I’ve never worked so hard in my life. The biggest thing was to make sure I looked after the staff. I set up a WhatsApp group and I kept them informed as changes happened. I organised everyone onto the subsidy and then we brainstormed.
I couldn’t sleep because I was just thinking, thinking, thinking… the up-side was that all the stress and worry made me fight for survival. I didn’t know that the business was going to survive. I just thought that I have to do everything I possibly can to make sure it stands the best chance.
I planned for the worst. I sold a lot of stuff in the days prior to lockdown — my wife’s triathlon gear, pushbikes, that sort of stuff. I took out business loans, literally preparing for the worst.
It was the most stressful time in my life — the emotions of all the staff, dealing with 80 suppliers. I owed hundreds of thousands of dollars when we closed and had no revenue. So I rang all our suppliers and we built a plan together. I said “I don’t have the money now, but I promise you I will pay my debt and thank you for sticking by me.” They were all amazing. As soon a you bury your head in the sand when you owe money, it’s a disaster. I learned that the early on. Owe a debt? Ring them!
We sold vouchers online as another revenue source. I made the vouchers 20% more powerful; if you bought $100 worth of vouchers they’d be worth $120 when you cashed them up. We sold mega-amounts.
We did home deliveries. I asked Kate, head chef of a high-end restaurant, to create a takeaway menu on the spot. We were on these Zoom calls together for hours, just figuring it all out. I had whiteboards up, cleared the garage out and turned it into the office. It was a military operation!
What changes did you make on reopening?
Our hours have changed. We now close Monday/Tuesday and we used to be closed just Sundays.
Back during the GFC, we came up with our Express Menu, a $49 three-course lunch. And we’ve still got it today. This time, we came up with Cibo Family Sundays, which is nothing over $39 and a completely different menu. We’ve got fried chicken, shanks, schnitzel… It’s super kid-friendly and we’ve got a kids’ three-course menu with homemade Fanta, milkshakes, which is totally not our vibe, not what we do at all. I thought it would take months to build up but it’s been full. Unbelievable!
How is business now?
We are so busy. I’m absolutely blessed. The support from our customers has been off the hook. We’re full most nights. The business wouldn’t have been doing anywhere near this money this time last year. I’ll take it while it lasts. I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future. I’ve always just kept on keeping on doing what we do.
Where is the hospitality industry heading?
It’s going to change. But, you know what? I have always been able to put my finger on the pulse of where things are at and what’s going on. I’ve been pretty accurate over the decades. But now? I can’t answer that question. I just don’t know… But I really feel for the hospo guys downtown who rely on tourists. I mean, I have had to get creative, but they are going to have to get really creative.
Fast Facts - Jeremy Turner
Pineapple on Parnell
GO-TO LOCKDOWN DISH
Gin. I’m not a drinker, but that was for purely medicinal reasons!
LOCKDOWN KILOS GAINED
More than 10. I did. I’m 6 foot 3 I’m a big boy…
WHEN I'M OFF DUTY
I’m a cyclist.
To book your fabulous Cibo experience
91 St Georges Bay Rd, Parnell, Auckland 1052
Call us on: +64 9 303 9660
Lunch: Wednesday to Friday from 11.30am
Dinner: Wednesday to Sunday from 5.30pm