Friendship a recipe for success

3 minutes read
Posted 24 April, 2024
FHG Boys 2024 By Kristel Maroszek 5

Thirteen years or so ago, James Ace and Bert Haines knew each other socially when a chance meeting in the street changed everything.
“We got chatting, and James offered me the job of Operations Manager which I jumped at,” says Bert.

Every now and again the pair – now co-owners -- look over their shoulders and reflect on the serendipity of that moment.

Thirteen years of innovation and growth at what has become Future Hospitality Group is based on “an incredible friendship” and a working relationship recognising their individual skillsets and different personalities with effective communication at its heart.

Ask Bert to describe James and he’s to-the-point. “He’s an innovator, a disruptor, very creative and has a meticulous eye for detail.”
James on Bert? “He’s fiercely competitive in striving for a very high performing leadership team and business. He leads by example in working very hard to deliver results, passionate about people and our ethos of everyone working with us leaving in a better position than when they started.

“I’m the one who’ll jump in feet first, I’m pretty good at cutting before measuring. Bert probably measures a few times, but we find a healthy balance.”

And if things aren’t going well, they’ve learned how (and when) to talk to each other.

“We call it pacing, having learned through external reviews and our professional development to recognise our different strengths and ideas and know the time and place to raise issues or discuss something heavier,” says Bert.

“We ‘pulse check’ that the other person is in a good spot to handle whatever we need to and negotiate around disagreements. We’re thick as thieves but still had to figure out that process.”

They have a laugh together “on the daily,” play golf and even go away on holidays together (in the name of market research!)
“We challenge each other, we’re yin and yang, but we’re always super respectful and trust is a big thing,” says James. “I can be really passionate about something but have learned to ask myself ‘what would Bert think’.”

The pandemic could have put a serious dent in their growth trajectory but these self-described big dreamers and risk takers instead saw opportunities.

They opened Mexican-inspired restaurant Margo’s in 2020, while lockdowns and border restrictions still existed, on just 15% of the original budget.

It was followed by Queenstown Ice Bar (Feb 2022), tequila and mezcal-inspired bar Little Mez (July 2022), and neighbourhood eatery odd saint (Dec 2022), adding to existing outlets Little Blackwood and Minus 5º ICE BAR.

In July 2023 they jumped at the opportunity to buy El Camino Cantina in Upper Village, re-opening as Miss Rita’s Cantina in December.
“Buying it was a no brainer, a plug and play if you will,” says James. “It was a very quick mutual decision, we know and love Mexican cuisine and could see a nice point of difference with an authentic Tex Mex concept sitting alongside what was already happening in town. The fitout’s one of the most electric in town and Upper Village has a great mix of hospitality and entertainment.”

When it comes to seeking new business opportunities, they’re both well connected community-wise, have ears to the ground, and a strategic development plan.

But they admit they’ve made costly mistakes and bad decisions in the past, delivering the best education and biggest learnings.
“We’d look at every opportunity and try to ‘square peg round hole’ it,” says James. “Now we now have concepts ready to go and are very selective with acquisitions and green field sites after taking years to figure this out.”

Opening Margo’s enabled Bert and James to bring experienced chef Matt Tobin into their fold. He’s now group Executive Chef and co-owner of odd saint and Margo’s alongside Bert and James.

“Our people are our most valuable asset, without them we wouldn’t have a business,” says Bert. “We proactively look for A-players and those with the potential to be such.

“Turning employees into potential business partners is our dream, and we were delighted to realise that with Matt, a true foodie.”

“Neither of us are chefs, so Matt’s like the third leg of the stool, an integral part of our business now and in the future,” says James. “We couldn’t deliver what we are without him. He IS hospitality.”

From 15 employees mid-pandemic they’re now around 100 full-time equivalent staff, working closely with site managers to instil company culture at all levels.

“We’re all about being transparent and honest, collaborating with them at every step,” says Bert.

FHG Boys 2024 By Kristel Maroszek 2
FHG Boys 2024 By Kristel Maroszek 4

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