What are former New Yorkers doing running a bar and restaurant in the heart of Papamoa? And what’s with their push to create an unofficial community centre?
Approaching Rain Bar and ‘gastro pub’ in Gravatt Road at Fashion Island, there’s no obvious attempt to clone a friendly-bar-in-Manhattan. Until you get you inside perhaps, and its seconds before you’re being waited on, with friendly, impeccable service. Geoff Ellis reckons their approach to service stems from the "overseas mentality" of Americans living in New Zealand, where service can still be spotty, he argues (rightly -Ed).
The expat American who runs Rain with wife Shannon, says it’s cheesy, but they certainly embrace the Cheers concept of a bar and restaurant where 'everybody knows your name.' There's nothing better than walking into a bar, he says, warming to the theme, and someone says 'Hi Geoff, how's it goin'? ‘It’s something instilled in the Rain bar staff. They know the regulars names and their children, and things like when they are going off to uni, he says.
It's an attitude to customer service where you can run your business properly and still have fun, says Geoff. The couple travelled to New Zealand some years ago and "absolutely fell in love with the country, the people and the lifestyle." Later, based in L.A. and looking to do their own business, New Zealand was top of the list. Next thing you know, says Geoff, they'd sold their house, in L.A., packed up belongings in a big container, two dogs, a newborn baby and "off we went."
Geoff Ellis first fell in love with the restaurant business as a teenager, going to university in New Orleans. He worked with 'mom & pop' enterprises and "fine-tuned" his people skills, and became “enthralled” by the business and its challenges. Later he spent 12 years with the Palm Restaurant Group, which begun in the 1920's with an Italian restaurant in New York, and three generations later, had expanded to 40 restaurants.
The quirky name Rain, for Geoff and Shannon Ellis, is all about life-giving properties of water, essential to life and refreshing. Rain is part of their philosophy he says, it energises the senses...wets the appetite, something you can hear, see, touch and taste." It's also just a cool name," laughs Geoff.
Rain is different in more than just the name, including a bid to be part of the local community that far exceeds most establishments - even in small town NZ. The couple sponsor sports teams, and local schools, and have just staged a golf tournament. All part of thinking outside the box, says Geoff. He explains their community push with the comment: you don't get anywhere without knowing your local market. They are the people who keep you in business; they support you and you need to support them, he adds. The more you get involved in community affairs, "the more you end with a one big family out here."
Rain's reward scheme with birthday shouts and discounts, is just good business again, he says, easy to administer and keeps people happy. (We have to let slip here that if it’s raining, cocktails are half price...)
There are varied events on at Rain almost every night of the week. Quiz nights on Tuesday are hugely popular, and there’s a ladies night with half price cocktails. Rain’s current calendar features everything from cocktail classes, to Super 14 rugby on the big screen, to a beach volleyball tournament, and ‘boutique wine dinner.’
All this aside, it’s still a bar and a well-stocked one at that - catering to all tastes. Rain has eight beers on tap from Heineken to Monteiths and Irish Stout, and 14 more bottled beers. Choose from over 20 different cocktails priced at $12, including the intriguing Randy Rain. Champagne is also on the drinks list, with lots of choice. Every night of the week there is a different drink on special.
Rain may embrace small town friendliness, but you won’t find small town pub grub, thanks to a female head chef who's worked at Ritz Carlton hotels in the U.S., and restaurants in London and Australia. The brunch menu is especially popular on weekends, with dishes like Corn Cake Stack – bacon, roasted tomato, avocado, poached eggs and hollandaise – for $15.
The menu is extensive, running from ‘small plate’ dishes like calamari, through gourmet-type sandwiches (with mesclun salad or fries), The mains, pleasingly all priced well under $30, range from fish of the day, to a grilled T-bone (Rain Bar has a restaurant next door called of course, Next Door – but space prevents us from including it in this review).
And now a note on the dreaded ‘R’ word. With the recession biting, Geoff and Shannon have re-engineered the menu, changing prices and what's on offer to make things easier on the pocket. People can still eat out without having to buy a full meal; just a beer and a bowl of fries, if that's what they want, says Geoff.
Summer’s hanging in, and Rain is one very fine detour on your way back from the beach. Dine outside for a cool breeze, or sink into a monstrous, soft leather sofa indoors. If it happens to bucket down, you’ve got it made...remember those cut price cocktails when it rains? Surf the menu at: www.rainpapamoa.co.nz