Business Time

How We Opened An Award-Winning Restaurant

Sarah Bullock and Jacob Brown didn’t have an easy start when they decided to open a restaurant in the Wellington suburb of Miramar, but they refused to give up on their dream. Six years on, The Larderhas picked up top national dining awards and is one of Wellington’s  favourite foodie destinations.  

Sarah Bullock and husband Jacob Brown used to sit at their kitchen table late into the night talking about how wonderful it would be to open their own neighbourhood restaurant.

The couple had worked in the Sydney food scene for years before returning to New Zealand in 2008. Jacob landed a great job as chef in a top Wellington restaurant, but what he and Sarah really wanted was a place of their own.

It seemed out of their league till Sarah got chatting to another mum while they watched their children’s swimming lessons. 

“That night, I was talking to a friend on the phone and I told her about the cafe. A little while later, her partner phoned to say he’d back us and that if we gave him 48 hours he reckoned he’d find other people who would, too.“She happened to mention that the cafe up the road from our house in Miramar was for sale. Jacob and I thought it would be amazing to be able to buy it, but we knew that couldn’t happen because we didn’t have any money,” says Sarah. 

“The dream we never thought we’d achieve suddenly began to seem possible.”

Today The Larder is one of Wellington’s most popular restaurants. It was awarded a coveted two hats rating in the 2016 Cuisine Good Food Awards, and Sarah – The Larder’s maître d' – picked up the restaurant personality of the year award.

Juggling work and family

The Larder specialises in seasonal food sourced locally, often direct from the growers, and in nose-to-tail eating.It’s a favourite with Miramar locals, including workers from nearby Weta Workshop.

Setting up The Larder certainly came with challenges. Sarah and Jacob had two pre-schoolers and a baby when they decided to open the restaurant. The youngest was still being breastfed, so Sarah would get home from The Larder at midnight or 1am and then be woken by the baby a few hours later for a feed. 


“When I look back at those early years,they are a blur,” she says.

Staffing has been another challenge. Buses stop running to Miramar before the restaurant closes, so Sarah often finds herself driving staff home.

“There are definitely easier ways to make a living than running a restaurant. There hasn’t ever been a point where we’ve felt we can sit back and relax,” says Sarah.

“But we’re able to stay motivated because we love what we do. Service really rocks my boat – I love looking after people.”

She is also proud that she and Jacob have successfully juggled a demanding business and a close-knit family life. It helps that the restaurant is only two minutes’ walk away from home for Sara hand Jacob – or a minute’s scooter away for their kids.

Ambitious goals

Sarah and Jacob enjoy the independence of running their own business and decided three years ago to set themselves the ambitious goal of buying out their business partners. It proved a tougher ask than they’d expected.

“When we contacted the banks to see if we could borrow some money, we were very disappointed with the responses from a couple of the big names. But then we spoke to a guy from Kiwibank and he was amazing,” Sarah says.

“In one of our early meetings with him, he said he’d heard Jacob talking on the radio about foraging for wild mushrooms.He’d seen some of the mushrooms Jacob had been talking about up at his family’s property in the Wairarapa, and he offered to bring some in. That blew us away– it really clinched the deal for us.”

Sarah and Jacob have a strong philosophy of contributing to their local community, so it’s no surprise that they value being able to bank with a Kiwi-owned bank.

The couple have already spoken to their Kiwibank Business Manager about expanding the restaurant’s kitchen space, and are looking for other opportunities to grow the business.

“We like to push the boundaries in every area of our lives,” says Sarah. “We’re always asking what we can do next to challenge ourselves.”  

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