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The Dux Dines On

by fatweb
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Dux
 
In the aftermath of the earthquakes Christchurch lost more than 500 hospitality premises. But leaving was never an option for Richard Sinke, owner of the Christchurch famous Dux Central and Dux Dine. The city is a part of his blood, having run the iconic Dux de Lux in the Arts Centre since 1978.
Businesses who didn’t share the same ties to the city packed up shop and moved to more stable land elsewhere in the country, but Richard firmly stood his ground in the face of a barren and crumbling CBD and made a promise to himself and the city to return and re-open the Dux.
He has stayed true to his word. Richard re-entered and reinvested in the hospitality scene with a hiss and a roar, not replacing, but diversifying and expanding on the beloved Dux de Lux concept.
Richard seized the opportunity to evolve the Dux brand. His calculated business plan saw the brand emerge from the rubble as three separate venues investing heavily into the city as he went.
 

Entering battle

Richard’s love of the Arts Centre and vegetarian food is deeply rooted within him. He was a student at the University of Canterbury from 1970 – 1973, which was based at the Arts Centre during this time. He went on to open an organic market garden with a friend in Woolston in the late 1970s. “Back then people had no idea about healthy, vegetarian and organic foods.”
The healthy food advocate opened the Dux de Lux, a vegetarian restaurant and bar, during a time when people had no idea what it was, but that didn’t stop droves of customers filing through its historic doors.
The February 2011 earthquake signalled the end of the Dux de Lux as we knew it. While Richard held out hope for some time that the business might return to the Arts Centre site, the June 2011 earthquake abruptly killed off those dreams and flicked on a realistic switch inside of him – from there a pragmatic strategy evolved.
Richard knew he needed a strong plan to enter the battle ground that was the Christchurch rebuild. In his arsenal he had a well-known brand and an insurance policy. What he needed was a clear and effective plan.
He began by identifying the key strong points of the Dux de Lux brand that its patrons identify with and know so well. The music, beer, food style and outdoor space were the drawcards which made the Dux de Lux great and were the elements he wanted to retain in the venture moving forth.
“I realised I wasn’t going to be able to find one building to incorporate all of those features. So I came up with the strategy of developing virtually three businesses based on the music the food and the beer.”
First came Dux Live, a purpose-built music venue, in December 2011. The warehouse style venue on Lincoln Road was scouted out in the middle of that year. Richard says it was pretty tricky to find the premises in those early days following the earthquake.
“Everything was in lock down and you couldn’t get into the city, so we had to look in the peripheral areas. I was shown the premises on Lincoln Road and I thought ‘wow this would make a great music venue’.”
With music checked off the list next came the food. Dux Dine restaurant opened in November 2012 after Richard discovered the villa it now operates from on Riccarton Road more than a year earlier. “I spotted this little villa tucked away looking quit decrepit and I thought it was a beautiful villa perfect for a restaurant.”
Owners of the building, Kilmarnock Enterprises, took an instant liking to Richard’s idea and said yes to his proposal straight away. Despite the fact the landlords were extremely supportive, collaborating with Richard to restore the villa and create Dux Dine, he says nothing moved quickly.
“It did take a long time to open. I first saw the building in September 2011 and it took more than a year to go through planning and the build. We thought we could get Dux Dine open in three months, but nothing moves fast around here.
“The same snail’s pace is reflected in the Christchurch rebuild. We initially thought ‘a couple of years and we’ll be right,’ but five years on and we are still having lots of issues.”
Despite the time delays Richard persisted with the help of his wife, interior designer Lisa Sinke. Lisa created the regal yet comfortable Dux Dine environment. The menu retains the same glorious vegetarian food that the former Dux did so well.
Throughout the whole process he never stopped looking for what would be the brand’s crowning glory, a brew bar, but finding the perfect building proved harder than expected.
He had two non-negotiable criteria for any potential brew bar building: a good outdoor area and good historical features to make it interesting.
“The third and most crucial part of my strategic puzzle was the brew bar. I had the brewery still brewing beer, so initially I was in a hurry to find a venue, but I couldn’t find anything.”
With no luck he took a step back from searching. “I took the Zen approach, ‘just wait and it will come’. I put the thought out there, focused on it and trusted that it would come.”
His waiting finally paid off when one evening at a dinner party he got wind of a vacant building on Lichfield Street that formerly housed The Twisted Hop. “The state of the building was pretty daunting. It was so decrepit and damaged after the earthquake.”
It took 14 months of planning, rebuild work and a substantial amount of investment from both Richard and the landlords to create what is now Dux Central.
Located in the Innovation Precinct, Dux Central opened in September last year to a throng of thirsty patrons. It houses four unique stand-alone bars within the one venue; the Brew Bar, the Emerald Room wine bar, The Upper Dux and The Poplar Social Club speakeasy cocktail bar.
On opening Richard was able to breathe a sigh of relief as he reflected on what he describes  as the hardest hospitality project he has ever taken on. “It was the hardest because of the scale and the capital cost outlay. Because we were dealing with a large heritage building there was a lot of cost overrun that we didn’t expect, so we had to deal with being over budget and that was a challenge for me because I had to find the money.”
The initial budget for Dux Central was $1.5 million and on completion he says the budget had run over $2 million.
Richard says the project and the ongoing success of the Dux has been made possible thanks to his team of loyal and dedicated staff. While staff retention is low in hospitality the Dux bucks the trend.  Longevity of staff is commonplace at the Dux with some staff members having worked there for almost  25 years.
“My great team of people work as a family. Their longevity and input is vital to the business, making this all possible.”

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Overcoming obstacles

Christchurch business owners know that opening a business in post-quake Christchurch comes with its challenges. In spite of the obstacles in his way Richard has opened three.
Obstacles from planning regulations, consents, a disjointed CBD, dust and car parking have all plagued the road to opening the businesses.
From his experience he says there should be a lot more collaboration from the Christchurch City Council with the people on the ground trying to get things done. “They sit in their offices and try to make decisions about the city, but they need to get out of the office and be on the ground to see what is actually happening.”
He says businesses new to the city need to have a clear dream, a strong plan and be prepared to persevere and stick to it. “This experience has made me realise how crucial it is to have a dream, a plan and be tough. You’ve got to have a plan, that is absolutely paramount.”

Never say never

More than five years on from serving its last cold beer at the Dux de Lux, loyal fans are still asking the same question ‘will it reopen’?
“People love the old Dux. I used to be asked every day for years, but it’s slowed to every second day now, if we’ll go back.
“Sadly our old building is 22nd on the Arts Centre Trust’s list of buildings to repair and no doubt they have their own budgetary issues.
“I’ve always saved the Dux de Lux name with the idea that you never know what the future holds. If they wanted me back I’d certainly give it a lot of thought, but I mean how many Dux venues can Christchurch have?”
 

Industry casualties

Customers have responded well to the contemporised Dux concept, pushing customer numbers up significantly compared with its pre-quake figures, but he says not all hospitality venues will be quite so fortunate.
Christchurch had 2044 food premises prior to the September 2010 earthquake, and while it took a dip during the initial aftermath, loosing about 500 venues across the city, numbers have recently come back strong and now exceed pre-earthquake levels with 2052 food premises in the city.
Richard says the future of the Christchurch hospitality scene is going to be interesting.  “A lot of the pre-existing outlets moved to the suburbs meanwhile we still have a lot more outlets moving into the CBD.
“There is a huge amount of development in the inner city and of course all of those developers want hospitality tenants on their ground floor, whether that’s a coffee shop, bar or restaurant. There will be a lot of landlords who are going to be chasing hospitality tenants and there will be more restaurants and bars than ever.”
He says the city won’t have enough customers to support the influx of food premises. “There are going to be some casualties, it is the nature of the business.
“I think people getting into hospitality are in for a rude shock when they find out how tight the margins are. It’s a very expensive and competitive industry to be in.”
Not even the Dux is immune to the brutally competitive industry. Earlier this year Dux Live closed its doors due to a lack of crowds. Richard says he choose not to extend the four year lease on the building because of the changing nature of the Christchurch entertainment scene.
“After the earthquake Addington became a hub of activity, but those crowds and the vibrancy that came with it is now shifting back into the city. I’ve retained the name Dux Live and may reopen in the city centre in the future if the opportunity arises.”
Despite the bump in the road the “Dux brand is still a very big part of the city”. It has been a part of the city’s fabric for almost 40 years and will continue to be for years to come.
 
By Laura Baker
 
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