The "flagship building" of Oamaru’s Victorian precinct is back in business.
Katrina McLarin and Brenda Laverick reopened the doors of the Criterion Hotel, Bar and Eatery last night, after previous lease-holders Herbert and Marise Martin moved on in January.
The building had undergone a $200,000-plus refurbishment, to ensure its "long-term viability", including an $80,000 kitchen revamp.
"We wanted to keep the elements that we thought were very important to the historical nature of the building intact, but we wanted to enhance it," Ms McLarin said.
"Being the flagship building for the entire Victorian precinct, it was important to us that we could create a space that welcomed visitors and locals alike into this area of Oamaru that’s so significant."
The women were "quietly confident", but also "very nervous" about the opening. They had been working hard on the project for a long time and were excited to have the chance to share the new-look space with the public.
"I think that’s the thing that we’re all looking forward to. It’s so nice driving past and seeing the lights on ... and seeing the building being inhabited again," Ms McLarin said.
The couple are also behind the restoration of boutique bed and breakfast Casa Nova House and its tapas establishment Restaurant 1861.
They signed up as leaseholders of the Criterion with the Whitestone Civic Trust in May.
Some "teething problems" were expected in the early days of operation, and came with the territory, she said.
"But I would think with, hopefully, being seasoned operators and a really great management team, we should hit our stride pretty quick."
The pair were proud to get the doors of the business back open again, and had long-term plans to restore the nine rooms upstairs to provide guest accommodation.
"Nobody wants to share a bathroom in a Covid environment ... Our plan down the line is every room has to be ensuited, and that’s going to take some time and some money and some foresight to make sure it’s done well."
The bar’s offerings included Emerson’s beer on tap and a signature Criterion black Doris plum cider, which had been created in collaboration with Oamaru’s Scotts Brewing Co, she said.
The kitchen was "absolutely" the biggest investment for the couple, but was necessary and would enable them to cater for upwards of 100 people.
Ms McLarin said she wanted the premises to be available for all to enjoy.
"That means it doesn’t matter who you are, or where you’re from, that hopefully you can walk in the doors here and feel comfortable ... You know, that everyone could feel like they have a place."
The Criterion is open five days, from Thursday to Monday, for lunch and dinner.
- By Ashley Smyth