Bar stools are in – and our search is on for the perfect perch, some serious snacks and something stirred or shaken. The team at Mr Pickles, on the river bank in Hamilton, create some memorable combinations.
Mat Pedley of Hamilton’s Mr Pickles recently won the Good George Local Hero title at the Waikato Food Inc Awards 2020 so it’s clear that he is pretty well regarded around town. But he resolutely refuses to big-note himself, admitting that he feels awkward about self-promotion. “There are so many people who should have won that award over me,” he says. So I turn to the decision makers. Julia Clarke, Project and Events manager at Waikato Food Inc says, “Mat has been working closely with Waikato Food Inc. on some new initiatives around mental health in the hospitality industry and its importance. This year’s been a doozy but our industry has always been one of high intensity and that won’t change,” adding that Mat is viewed as an innovative leader who puts the wellbeing of his staff first which made him such a popular choice for this industry-voted award.
Mat skilfully deflects me to talk about the other awards won: Daniel Rich, Mr Pickles’ sous chef, was named Bidfresh Rising Star 2020, Clara Weinzettl, head waitress, took the Burns & Ferrall Front of House Superstar title and Mr Pickles scored the accolade of Bidfood Best Restaurant. “Our team is great and the awards are a testament to them,” he says. “If ever there was a time to celebrate, this is it, though it’s important to celebrate our industry regardless of what else is happening.” The industry is, he acknowledges, hard, hot and grungy but the whole idea of Mr Pickles – as conceived by him and his business partner Maurice Montero – is about treating people as they want to be treated themselves.
That goes for their staff and their customers, too, as the menu and drinks list is built on the kind of food that they want to eat when they go out.
After lying derelict for 20 years, you would have thought the building was only fit to demolish, but once it was rescued and retrofitted Mat and Maurice saw the potential of the vast space with the priceless views over the Waikato river. Dominating the space is a massive bar – the domain of Mat’s wife, Liisi Havam – which breaks the space between bar and restaurant with the vibe spilling out onto a terrace that wrings every last wow from that river view.
“Hamilton’s an interesting place,” he says, “but it’s easy to knock it. I punch myself when I catch myself talking shit about it, because we’ve lots of very cool things going on here. It’s exciting to see it flourish.”
Mat is clearly fervent about the food scene of New Zealand, the Waikato in particular and, as we speak, his zeal and knowledge are apparent, name checking scores of restaurateurs, producers, products and people he admires. He reserves particular praise for Mimi Gilmour, co-founder of Burger Burger. “It was when I met Mimi that it all flourished for me. I learned more from her than anyone else. She really champions people.”
Involving staff in the big decisions is part of the way they roll, which is how the name Mr Pickles came about. After narrowing the choice down to four options, they threw it over to the staff to decide and Mat tells me that if customers ask who Mr Pickles is they’ll get a different answer every time. I think I got the real skinny, but I’m not going to share just in case Mat was dissembling again. TRACY WHITMEY