The Wayward Pigeon has made it home.
Now it’s Hamiltonians’ turn to make a break for freedom to the Lawrenson Group’s biggest and most stylish bar venture yet – the Wayward Pigeon Brew Bar and Kitchen in suburban north Hamilton.
For group owner John Lawrenson, The Wayward Pigeon on the corner of Wairere Drive and Gordonton Road is his best bar achievement yet – and with 16 hospitality venues now to his name, the 39 year old entrepreneur-businessman should know.
The Wayward Pigeon, named in honour of the racing pigeons that were the passion of a local farmer but kept going missing-in-action – history suggests into a neighbour’s pies – is Lawrenson Group’s second foray into suburban hospitality since the tightening of drink-driving laws made people leery of travelling to inner-city social venues.
The first, the Roaming Giant at Claudelands, named for a circus elephant which once escaped into the local bush, has been a magnet for locals says John, and he’s confident the architectural appeal and good-looking, cosmopolitan interior design of The Wayward Pigeon will also prove a winner.
While North Hamilton residents have been watching The Wayward Pigeon rise over the past five months, behind the scenes John was steadily extending its proportions from the original plan for 300sqm, to 800sqm. And he’s spared no expense on interior fit-out – one of his “Big 3” essentials for making a hospitality venue a success, along with menu and staff.
The joinery alone in the ever-so-slightly Scandinavian-look interior cost more than $300,000, he says, while the kitchen didn’t leave any change out of an even bigger investment.
Quirks that emerged in the Roaming Giant’s functional design have been avoided, and for John the two-storied Wayward Pigeon, complete with an upstairs private function area and outdoor seating, is the most functional bar venue in Hamilton.
The suburban gastro bar’s combination of inviting atmosphere, innovative and reasonably-priced menus and location in Hamilton’s fastest growing residential area is set to make it the locals’ favourite “local”.
But a clever marketing campaign playing on its name spurred strong public interest in The Wayward Pigeon long before its doors opened.
An interactive social media campaign featuring a “wayward” pigeon photo-shopped resting at Waikato and overseas landmarks as it tried to find its way home was a huge success, says John.
Inviting Facebook punters to pinpoint the pigeon’s stopover spots on its epic journey home in the lead up to opening day drew tens of thousands of views and thousands of interactions, he says, making people feel connected to The Wayward Pigeon even before the big day.
And because pigeons aren’t alone in wanting to make a dash for freedom now and then, “Make a break” was incorporated into the new bar’s branding to suggest it’s a great place to enjoy some freedom from the daily grind.
The Lawrenson team’s ode to pigeons doesn’t stop with the name.
After research revealed these humble birds have a long and noble history of valour in war and crisis as messengers, with some even being honoured, it was decided they deserved further recognition.
That’s been awarded in some menu offerings, notably the gourmet range of pizzas, which are named in honour of history’s most famous pigeons, including the first homing pigeon to win a race in New Zealand. Staff have swotted up all the avian histories to share with curious guests.
The Wayward Pigeon is open seven days a week and has created 40, mostly fulltime, jobs, taking the Lawrenson Group’s annual payroll to more than $11 million for around 380 full and part time staff.
John expects it will host up to 500 customers on a Saturday, and serve around 200 diners on an average week night. (The Roaming Giant did about 800 meals on Father’s Day.)
The upstairs function room was well-booked before opening day on October 20, reflecting strong demand from the city for function space.
There are 175 car parks in the precinct serving the suburban gastro bar, most of which will be available to The Wayward Pigeon’s guests in the evenings.
The Lawrenson Group is one of New Zealand’s largest bar and restaurant companies.
The Wayward Pigeon has been on its planning radar for four years.
The group’s 16 establishments are mostly in Hamilton’s CBD and range from award-winning fine dining and bistro restaurants and after-work drinking venues to the city’s biggest and most popular nightclubs.
Its brand outlets include the Victoria St Bistro, Keystone, Bluestone Steakhouse, The Bank, House on Hood, Shenaningans Irish Pub, Bar 101, The Outback, and the Easy Tiger cocktail lounge.
The group also has a bar and nightclub in Auckland and will open its first bar in Christchurch next year.
The first Hamilton bar and restaurant opened by the Lawrenson company was Furnace in 2007.
Then followed the group’s most rapid growth period until 2011 when nine bars had been opened.
John recalls on arriving in Hamilton in 2007 from the bustling Dunedin hospitality scene he found the city a “barren wasteland of hospitality nothingness”.
He largely credits his success to the calibre of his support staff over 10 years in the Hamilton hospitality industry.
“One of the things about being an entrepreneur is that you have to be able to draw people into dream and get them to share it, to see it. You’re never going to do it by yourself.”