Sukh and Aji Basra are keen foodies but didn't have commercial hospitality experience before they bought Remuera Local Café Bistro. But, as Sukh says, support from their staff, and customers, has made the transition somewhat easier.
You bought Remuera Local in February. How have the first few months been?
Challenging! But we're slowing getting a grip on things. Running it with limited hospitality knowledge has certainly been very interesting but facing challenges keeps you going and thinking. We were also blessed to purchase a business with loyal customers, and great staff. Staff who we are already calling part of our family!
Have you made any changes since starting, or are there any ahead?
No, the business has been operating the way Buki and Blerta left it. We don't believe we need to make any big changes, but there's always room for minor improvements. Aji does like a professional appearance - possibly to do with the fact he's in uniform all day! - so we've incorporated name badges. Other than that, we have just been meeting all the locals and setting up accounts and suppliers.
Will you both be working here in the cafe?
Lately Aji has been managing two jobs - he is a NZ Police constable - but we have almost finalised our roles in the business. I'll be here at the Local fulltime, and Aji will continue with his police job as well as doing all the admin for the cafe.
How long has Aji been in the police force? Is it hard being a policeman's wife?
He's been in the force for 11 years now! He's a people person, and loves to help them. He never brings his work home, but I know how difficult his job is. We see it on the news almost daily, some of the stuff they deal with. I fully support him though, and love that he's a policeman. He protects us all!
Why did you want to own a restaurant/cafe?
We wanted to get into hospitality to meet new people and learn about food, the environment, the industry as a whole... mind you, our house is actually like a small restaurant. We often have family and friends over for dinner, so all that cooking and serving was good experience! Aji's father set up and operated a large Indian restaurant. That inspired us too.
Can you both cook?
Yes! And actually, for a policeman and busy man in the community, Aji cooks a fair bit and loves itl He recently bought a tandoor oven and likes to make lamb kebabs, chicken and prawns on Sunday evenings.
So how did you end up owning Remuera Local - was it just on the market at the right time, or were you specfically looking in Remuera?
We wanted to buy a cafe/restaurant in central Auckland, and Aji went and checked out the Local and immediately called me to say "this is it". He just loved the whole atmosphere; the place has a very welcoming feel to it. And as soon as I saw it, I knew it would be ours. It's funny, the first business we looked at was the one we ended up buying... but this place has it all. Great location, customers, staff and appearance. It was meant to be!
Do you live locally?
We currently live in Papatoetoe, in the house that Aji and his brothers grew up in. We'll work to buy a house in Remuera or close by.
Have you always lived in Auckland?
I've been in New Zealand for almost 12 years now, but Aji was born and bred here.
Do you see this becoming a family business, or do your children have other ideas?
Our daughters love coming here and spending time with the girls - they get along well with all the staff, and love to help. But we're happy with whatever career paths they choose, and will support them all the way. I think our little one would like to be a policewoman, but not sure on our eldest. She's good with maths, and loves to dance.
What are your favourite dishes on the Local's menu?
Mine is the broccoli risotto and vege scramble, Aji loves the eye fillet!
What are two things your staff might be surprised to know about you?
Hmmm... I'm a cultural women's manager for the biggest Indian Sports and Cultural Club here in New Zealand, Saanjh. The club promotes the Indian culture to kids, focussing mainly on the ones born here in NZ. We teach them through dance; it's fun and keeps them fit and active. It's also open to non-Indians, so if anyone wants to learn dancing, come see me!
And the second thing?
I was a full vegetarian until I married Aji! I don't know why, but after we wed I slowly started eating red meat, chicken and fish. But I still don't eat beef.
What do you like most about working in Remuera?
Until we bought the business I'd not really been here, but what an eye-opener it's been. It's a great place with great people, such a vibrant and busy little town.
Photos by Vanita Andrews and words by Fiona Wilson. This article first appeared in the June 2017 issue of The Hobson magazine.