New Plymouth / Queenstown, NZ
Both Airspresso cafes, the first at New Plymouth airport and the second at Queenstown International, have been led, driven and grown by husband and wife, and partner teams who co-own the businesses. Former weather presenter and New Zealand personality, Jim Hickey, describes the vision, drive, integrity and innovation behind the brand as a labour of love.
What did you do before you opened your first site?
I worked as TVNZ’s senior Weathercaster for 25 years, and dreamed of an original café experience as I drank a lot of coffee!
Why did you decide to open your first business?
Ozone Coffee entrepreneur and hospitality owner Craig Macfarlane was a friend of mine, and one day I mused aloud “Why can’t you get a decent coffee and a wholesome dining experience in an airport?”
Was your opening a second site always in the dream pipeline?
Initially no. One café with its burgeoning clientele was enough! Besides we were busy bedding down systems, upskilling staff, fine tuning our F and B offerings, and learning and cherishing the nuances of great service and creative dining. The second site began as an elusive dream. Persistence, a vision, and a determination to cater for the most discerning patron paid off handsomely. It was more cosmopolitan, demanded restaurant quality service and fare, and catered for an international audience in one of the world’s adventure tourism capitals.
Were there any brand new curve balls you hadn’t encountered the first time around?
Oh yes. Now we offered high end dining for multi nationals with language and particular taste issues, the demands of stressed flyers, and flight delays with related congestion and overcrowding... So, were some things a little easier? The model and the modus operandi were instantly adaptable, but with over 1.6 million travellers entering our doors each year, we walked a fine line of maintaining quality of fare and customer service, but still equipping our BOH and FOH staff to cope with huge ebbs and flows.
Our senior staff including our chefs now have operational roles in ensuring that quality and craftsmanship end up on the plate or in the cup or glass. The imparted vision is to have the brand synonymous with the quintessentially good dining experience.
Aesthetically, how did you approach the second location?
Our mission statement is to inculcate a great F and B experience within a branded aviation ambience. Airspresso tells the stories of local aviation history with both museum artefacts and local aviators’ biographies. The fit-out was ‘new build’, so the blank canvas included view shafts to airside and ancient mountains, a stand alone multi service pod where customers interact with the chef and baker at work, aircraft murals and taxidermy festooning the walls, and travellers who constantly remark on the unique dining geography.
How did you approach staffing and recruitment? Did some of the existing team move to the new location?
No. But the partner of another operation we own in Queenstown moved to take leadership and co-ownership of this new venture. He runs this, she runs that. The synergies are amazing. We ‘cross pollinate’ some other staff who work in either environment.
How similar are your businesses to each other?
Branding, service model etc are the same. The Queenstown model is on a much bigger, and international scale.
Were location, clientele and competition factors in defining the two sites?
Not really, except with location. This concept is bespoke. But having a captive audience in two vastly different airports is a ready made audience! The key is looking after them!
What’s next for you, the business, the brand, the vision?
At this moment we’re working with local Council and Government to redevelop a brand new terminal and café restaurant in New Plymouth. The vision is undimmed, untarnished. Service, quality and joy are hallmarks. The brand thankfully remains strong, now with an international patronage.
What is the philosophy behind your businesses and how is this reflected in both your sites?
Three main drivers have determined our business philosophy.
One, to provide an epicurean experience for air travellers that meets and exceeds the highest industry standards. Two, to provide dining environs that depict local flying heritage, including the pilots’ stories, with a garnish of the contemporary aviation museum. Thirdly, through staff engagement and team dynamics, to foster encourage and elevate passionate personnel to key leadership roles within our operations.