Hayes Common's Lisa Quarrie on the Future of Hospitality and Adaption

A woman in her cafe posing for the camera.

One of our favourite cafés in Aotearoa is Hayes Common. Occupying a prevalent corner site alongside a river pathway, Hayes Common in Hamilton Kirikiriroa optimises everything you want in a local neighbourhood spot; an inspiring fit-out with multiple rooms, outstanding food and coffee made with care, a well-curated and changing drinks list, appealing events, such as their Meet the Maker series, plus super lovely staff and owners who work their tails off.

Interview by: Johnny Gibson

Photos by: Anna Briggs

With turbulent times in the hospitality industry, it’s hard to know what the future holds, especially for our beloved. One thing is for sure: they’ll need to continue to adapt and show more of the resilience they’ve had to forge over the last few years. So, how do you make it work, prosper even, and adapt to the ever-changing environment? We talked with Lisa Quarrie of Hayes Common to get her thoughts on this and the lessons they've learnt, with 16+ years of experience and three café iterations.

A woman making a cocktail behind a bar.

Tell us a little about your hospitality journey that led you here. 

My husband and I met working together in a café in Kingsland, Auckland. After getting married in 2007, we decided to follow a dream of running our own place and were shown a small site in Hamilton by a mutual friend. The location was perfect for us, and we saw great potential. 

We ran our first café on Victoria Street for nine years. We had an open kitchen, so my husband and I could talk to anyone who walked in the door. It created an intimate space and meant all our customers got to know each other better over lunch. 

In 2016, we opened Hayes Common, our local corner café bursting with potential. We completed a full renovation in keeping with the neighbourhood. We always wanted to support local small suppliers, from our beer on tap to food on the menu, true neighbourhood local eatery, reminiscent of our travels in Melbourne and Sydney and which were starting to pop up in Auckland and Wellington. These days, COVID has forced us to review our hours and focus on our bread and butter trade - Brunch.

In 2020, we looked at a new site in Ruakura, home to Waikato Innovation Park, known for its support of agriculture and tech businesses; it was a thriving, growing community, and we launched into a third fit-out. COVID wreaked havoc during this opening process, but after a slow start, Weave has a steady, loyal customer base, and we're working hard to grow its catering arm. 

How would you best describe Hayes Common? 

Hayes Common sits in the heart of Hayes Paddock, a heritage-protected area known for being NZ's first statehouse neighbourhood and a blueprint for others around the country. We loved the rawness of the old concrete building and the stories it had to tell, and we leaned into that with regard to the renovation. 

A few walls were stripped back to reveal the colour palette of the building's previous occupiers, and we used this and the colours and materials of the neighbourhood to inspire the design. Clever friends helped bring it all together to create a space that felt like it had always been there. The site has consistently been a popular brunch destination due to its location alongside the river path, surrounded by trees and a park nearby. We knew the space had more to offer, and we quickly became known for our private and in-house events and dinner offerings (currently on hold).

What do you want people to experience when visiting Hayes Common? 

We wanted it to be a place where people could come for a coffee, lunch, or lazy breakfast on the weekend or host a bespoke gathering with friends for a special event. It works hard as a space and caters to all these occasions well. We often describe it as people's home away from home -. We have always had an ethos of ensuring all our guests are welcome, whether it's kids, the elderly, those with dietary restrictions, or furry friends. Note - we now have a Dawg Menu! 

How does hospitality build industry sustainability? 

To be sustainable in this climate means looking at our business from more of a holistic point of view. Not only what products we choose to use but what businesses we support, and ensuring we're seasonal and minimising waste. It’s also about being savvy with numbers and looking for niche ways to increase customer engagement and how to drive a business with a sense of purpose. Staff retention rates across our industry are low, so we’re looking at what we can offer staff - It's about more than money; the generation coming through is not necessarily interested in working the long hours we did as a right of passage. Instead, we need to work on creating a balance between growth, opportunities and regular hours/days off. We've reduced our hours to look after our core team and ensure we're thinking long-term. 

There's also some education to be done with our customers around traditional ideas of 'value for money' - this isn't necessarily just the price of coffee, but what is your local establishment worth to them? How much do they value the space, offerings and staff of these places? 

What do you think the future of café culture looks like?

Cafés and eateries have become meeting places for our communities, whether social or work-related. They play a crucial role in their communities, people's daily rituals, working needs and family gatherings. All this comes at a growing cost. For the industry to survive, we need to look at how spaces are being used by customers and how we can add value. This is ever-changing, and thinking outside the box on how to offer spaces to people to meet their needs will become more important for hospitality businesses, with high wages and overheads and increasing pressure on all costs. 

In terms of offerings, people want to know the provenance, where their food comes from and to ensure that they're spending with companies that care about their community, their people and their impact on the environment.

Hayes Common has been a community institution in Hamilton since 2016. What's so essential about spaces that unite communities and foster connection?  

I've mentioned the value of spaces above, but in addition to this, little details make all the difference. We pay great attention to texture, quality of light, soundproofing and music. These shouldn't be evident if done right, but they make you feel comfortable and relaxed.

Hamilton has some outstanding hospitality for its size. What do you think makes Hamilton's hospitality special? 

One of the best things about Hamilton is its people - so many wonderful people here want to support and nurture local businesses. There is a sense of community and of wanting others to see it for what it is. We're just down the road from Auckland, and we want people to come here and feel like it's equally relevant in terms of food. We have some of the best dairy, fruit, berries, vegetables and meat producers on our doorstep. Now, we just need to ensure everyone else knows what's on offer here!

What are your daily coffee habits? And any other daily rituals that are important to you?

I start the day with a long black… I'm not much of a breakfast person. I practise yoga regularly, and last year, I revived my love of reading. With a busy life, kids, staff and all the other things, I value time to recharge and switch off. 

Where do you seek inspiration? 

All over the place. I'm a visual person, so often, scrolling through Instagram or Pinterest, I'll see something that sparks an idea. It used to be from travelling, but holidays have been scarce of late. Maybe next year will be a year for travelling again!.

What's your favourite food and drink match?

We're serving a delicious Chermoula chicken dish with grilled pineapple salsa and Ajo Blanco that we had on for an event with Known Unknown wines. We paired it with their Tangerine (orange) wine, and it was sublime! 

What's your advice for anyone who's looking to open a café? 

Do your market research. Be clear on who your audience is and how you will cater to them. What secret sauce/power will sit alongside your competitors and help drive business to you and your area whilst not directly competing with it? Also, get yourself a good bookkeeper (shout out to Ren!). 

What are a few of your favourite hospitality spots in NZ?

So many! Alma, Gotchu, Madame George and Ozone Coffee in Auckland have all been a good time. Sherwood (Queenstown) was great last year on a visit south. I headed to Wellington recently and loved revisiting  Floridita's, August Eatery and Ombre. 

Neat Hamilton Places

The Green

High seats placed around a kitchen and bar area.
Place Hamilton
Restaurants key icon.

When Chef Karl Martin-Boulton first shared his concept for The Green, people told him Hamilton wasn’t ready for something so innovative.

Scotts Epicurean

Close up of halloumi salad on a table at Scotts Epicurean.
Place Hamilton
Cafes key icon.

For a feast full of heart and soul, you’ll want to send Scotts Epicurean to the top of your brunching list.

Good George Dining Hall

Bartender behind the bar at Good George Dining Hall, Hamilton.
Place Hamilton
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With a large outdoor area amongst the brewing tanks, Good George is the perfect spot to enjoy a glass of beer in the sunshine.

Gather Food House

Sweet treats on display at Gather Foodhouse, Hamilton.
Place Hamilton
Cafes key icon.

Presentation is key to the ethos at Gather.