Friday, September 11, 2015

Aroha Restaurant: Our One Year Anniversary, Year in Review, and Meeting Lorde!

It's hard to believe it's been a year since our restaurant's grand opening! So much has happened in these last 12 months and we have learned so much about operating a business, customer service, and most importantly, ourselves. Saying it's been an easy ride thus far would a lie. It hasn't been. It's been hard, exhausting, overwhelming, and sometimes, downright depressing. But it's been worth every moment because for all of the challenges we've faced, it's also been exciting, fun, eye-opening and at the end of the day, completely amazing.

Celebrating our one year restaurant anniversary! (Sept. 10, 2015)
The biggest challenge we've faced in the past year is our overwhelming desire to please everyone, which these past couple months, we finally realized that's not possible. You can never please everyone or cater to everyone, and as we've realized this, I feel like we've brought the restaurant back up to the level that we always intended for it, and we plan to keep it there. We've always been about providing quality food and service and quality comes at a price. It's been hard to become okay with that idea! As young business owners, even if 90% of the customers love and appreciate the restaurant's food and concept, every time the 10% come in that complain that our freerange imported New Zealand meat is too expensive and should be $20 or less, we've made the mistake of trying to rearrange the menu and pricing to cater to these individuals. Of course, being sticklers for quality, we kept the quality and still tried to meet these demands. Needless to say, that has not worked in our benefit and we certainly have paid the price for those mistakes...very literally. The fact is, we will never sacrifice the quality of our food or service and at the end of the day, we just need to keep getting visits from our amazing customers who understand that. After a year of being open, we've finally learned that this group of customers does in fact exist and we just need to focus our attention on them! We're very excited to start Year Two focused more than ever on our concept and bring more amazing creations and ideas to Aroha!

At the end of this first year, the biggest lesson we've learned is to never be afraid to follow your vision. Go with what's in your heart and eventually, people will follow. It just takes time to grow and trying to rush growth is just a recipe for disaster.

While we've been through some very challenging times, we've also had some incredible experiences that we never would've dreamed of! A couple of weeks before our grand opening last year, we were contacted by the New Zealand Consulate to host a private event for the Consulate General, Leon Grice. The event went off without a hitch and it was a fabulous way to adjust to our brand new kitchen and staff.

Gwith and I with the New Zealand Consulate General, Leon Grice.

That day was exciting for us, both professionally and personally, as Gwith and I received the surprise of a lifetime! His family flew in from New Zealand to surprise us and celebrate our restaurant's launch!

Then, shortly before opening last year, we were contacted by The Breeder's Cup Taste of the World to represent New Zealand a month after our grand opening! This opportunity was an incredible experience as we presented our venison carpaccio to celebrity chef, Bobby Flay (who absolutely loved it!), and 1,200 other guests within a three hour time window.

Gwith and I with Bobby Flay at the 2014 Breeder's Cup Taste of the World

Flash forward and we've had some great talents visit our restaurant since our opening! Within the first few months, we had visits from now regulars, Hercules actor Kevin Sorbo and Kiwi native Flight of the Concords' comedian Rhys Darby.

Gwith and I with Kevin Sorbo (Hercules)
Rhys Darby and his wife, Rosie, tweet about his experience at Aroha

During the winter of last year, we also got a visit from the New Zealand news station, Seven Sharp! The exposure we were given apparently made Gwith a celebrity back in New Zealand and thanks to this video, we've even had Kiwis fly in from New Zealand with our restaurant on their list of places to visit!

This past week, however, has blown our minds. Within our final week of our first year, we had the opportunity to cook for not one, not two, but THREE Grammy award winners! One week ago, we had the privilege of serving System of a Down's lead singer, Serj Tankien during our Friday lunch. It was wonderful to chat with him and we were ecstatic when he asked us for a photo so he could Instagram his experience! The post blew up with over 12,000 likes within the day!

Us with Serj Tankien and his Instagram post
Still over the moon about this experience, on Monday night, Gwith received and incredible phone call and opportunity from New Zealand TV personality, Brooke Howard-Smith for his charity, Cure Kids. Just two days away before the launch of their video, "Team Ball Player Thing" (a charity video and song raising money for Batten's disease featuring New Zealand musicians), he was searching for a chef to cater the LA launch party at Grammy Award winning producer Joel Little's house. Gwith seized this opportunity and on Wednesday night, we made our way there to cater the event, supplying our Cloudy Bay clams, green lipped mussels, New Zealand lamb, and the biggest hit of the party, our venison sausages from our Sunday brunch menu! The event included a large majority of the artists featured in the video, including many of my husband's favorite Kiwi bands like Six60, Kids of 88, The Naked and Famous, and Daniel Bedingfield (who happens to be the singer of our song, "If You're Not the One"). Throughout the night, as the only pregnant lady there in my third trimester, I was kept company by non other than Grammy Award winning artist, Ella Yelich-O'Connor, otherwise known as Lorde! As she ate up our food (and repeatedly made her way back to the grill for more venison sausages!), she couldn't have been any sweeter. She was constantly making sure I not only had a place to sit throughout the evening but also that I was being kept company. I truly love the essence of Kiwi culture. Everyone is so down-to-earth and truthfully, if I hadn't seen so many photos of her online and in magazines these past couple of years, I never would've known she was a celebrity.

Us at the Kiwis Cure Batten Fundraiser (Top left: Me and Lorde, Top right: Gwith and I with Six60, Bottom left: The guests watch the launch of the video, Bottom right: Gwith and Lorde)
Please support this fantastic organization and cause by sharing the video and checking out the song "Team Ball Player Thing" on iTunes. Be sure to share with the hashtags #kiwiscurebatten and #teamballplayerthing! The video features a slew of New Zealand celebrities including Peter Jackson, Rhys Darby, Bret McKenzie, Boh Runga, Brooke Fraser, Dave Dobbyn, Gin Wigmore, Kimbra, Daniel Bedingfield, Matiu Walters, Sam McCarthy, Thom Powers, Alisa Xayalith, Lorde, nine of the All Black players,  and countless others! It really is an amazing collaboration.

As we start our second year at Aroha, we can't wait to seeing what new opportunities arise! We hope this upcoming year brings joy to everyone as we continue to grow into our roles as restaurant owners and take Aroha to new heights!

Thank you everyone for all of your support this past year! It has been one wild ride and we look forward to continuing our journey with you!

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30990 Russell Ranch Rd Unit C, Westlake Village, CA 91362
© 2015 Aroha Restaurant.