Eugene and Sharyn Whakahoehoe had a three-year plan when they returned to New Zealand and bought Omakau’s Commercial Hotel in January 2020 – introduce the locals to American-style smoked meat and turn the former stables into a taproom from which to serve their own craft beer.
Lockdowns have allowed them to achieve that plan in a shorter time, but Covid-19 has also made Mr Whakahoehoe’s core business of policy writing so busy he is unable to do justice to both, and so the hotel is now for sale.
“If you take your eye off the ball with either one of those, it is to the detriment of both,” he explained.
The couple and their three sons moved to the historic hotel, thought to have been built by William Leask in 1898, from Virginia in the United States, where Mr Whakahoehoe wrote policies for the military.
Eldest son Autaia is studying media design at Victoria University of Wellington, and designed the branding for Dark Horse Brew Werkz.
Middle son Kohu studies business management at the University of Otago and gets hands-on experience at the hotel when home.
Their youngest son Tainui is only 10 but hoping to be a ninja, his dad said with a laugh.
Mr Whakahoehoe said he had been involved in craft brewing since a student and grew to love slow-cooked smoked meat while living in the United States, where it is a Southern tradition that has spread throughout the country.
“I really got into my barbecue and craft beer there,” he said.
The couple were unsure of where they would settle once they found the right buyer for the hotel, but it would probably have to be nearer to Wellington, they said.
Mrs Whakahoehoe is interested in returning to her earlier teaching career.
He said they were hoping the right people would buy the hotel “and understand the uniqueness of the place and the business”.
he hotel is “much more than just a pub” to the locals, Mr Whakahoehoe said, but a social centre where the community could share their joys and troubles and an important part of that community.
“The backbone of this business is the community around it. Whoever takes over has to understand the needs of the community.
“You have obligations to the community as a publican, both legally and socially.”
He had not realised before moving to Omakau how close the community was and how supportive they were also, he said.
“The values that people have around here, you wish that all New Zealanders had.”
Mr Whakahoehoe planned to take his craft beer brand with him, but would leave the brewery equipment for the next owner if they wanted it.
He said he would miss getting out and talking with the locals, but was confident they would be as supportive of whoever took over the hotel.