The People Behind the Places: Meet Rotorua’s Hospitality Heroes

A man wearing a chef's outfit holding a tray of Maori food.

What separates a good restaurant or café from a great one are the people behind the counter or in the kitchen. Hospitality staff are the keys to bringing a venue to life, and Rotorua has no shortage of hospitality heroes.

From chefs with decades of experience to community champions and service aficionados, here are the people who go above and beyond to make their customers’ experiences special.

Lorisse Vincent-Amor from Ani’s Gin Bar & Tapas

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1161 Amohau Street, Rotorua

Founder Lorisse Vincent-Amor is the heart and soul of Ani’s Gin Bar & Tapas. Lorisse developed her love of food from a young age, eventually pursuing a formal culinary education that took her overseas to hone her skills.

Upon returning to New Zealand, she opened Ani’s—which is named after her late mother—in 2022. The menu of modernised Māori kai is inspired by Lorisse’s nostalgia for the flavours of her childhood. Many of the dishes feature native botanicals such as kawakawa or horopito, and those notes are echoed throughout the bar’s extensive gin collection. Lorisse’s expertise really shines in the gin space, and from behind the bar, she is happy to walk diners through the options of made-in-New Zealand spirits to craft their perfect drink.

Greg Thomas of Okere Falls Store

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757A State Highway 33, Okere Falls

Greg Thomas is one half of the duo at the cult favourite Okere Falls Store, which is run out of a lovingly and sustainably refurbished petrol station just off the state highway. Greg has been coming to Okere Falls since the 1980s and purchased his first box of beer from the venue when it was still a petrol station. He and his partner, Rachel, have been at the helm for since 2021 and view themselves as kaitiaki (stewards) of the Okere Falls Store. Together, they have taken that mindfulness and care into everything from how they treat customers to the brews they stock in the fridges and the expansive menu of all-day brunchy classics—including some pretty spectacular toasties. But if you’re Greg, the go-to means a good set of poached eggs with streaky bacon with a tasty long black, sitting on the front deck in the sun watching the world go by. To get in on the fun, keep an eye on their socials because the team are prone to throwing regular burger nights or other themed events.  

Irihei Walker of Te Pā Tū

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1220 Hinemaru Street, Rotorua city, Rotorua

Te Pā Tū is a celebration of Māori culture—history, traditions, aspirations and kai. Over four hours, you'll celebrate with an immersive seasonal banquet aligned to the maramataka (Māori lunar calendar). Each year Te Pā Tū collaborates with a different Māori chef, inviting them to personalise the menu and offerings and highlight the breadth and depth of the lived experiences of the culinary team.

Anchoring the team at Te Pā Tū is executive chef Irihei Walker (Ngāi Tūhoe, Te Arawa, Ngāti Kahungungu). With over 20 years of experience, Irihei developed a love of cooking from his mother and grandmother, training abroad and honing his skills at fine-dining establishments in Australia before returning to his native Rotorua. The pull of te ao Māori brought him to Te Pā Tū, where he curates the story behind the three-hour feast's exquisite kai (food). Expect delicacies like pāua (abalone), pickled pikopiko (native fern frond) or ika mata (ceviche), and larger dishes such as confit duck leg brined for 24 hours in star anise, cinnamon, and rock salt. 

Tuta Davoren from Poco Tapas & Wine

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1183 Arawa Street, Rotorua

Poco Tapas & Wine is an open, inviting space with plenty of natural light, an attractive counter bar and attention to detail—not least of which is the sharing-style menu and the extensive wine list. Tuta Davoren has been the sous chef at Poco since it opened two years ago and brings his 20-plus years of international experience and passion for fine dining to the seasonal menu (fun fact: he once held the record for most steaks in one night at Marquis of Lorne in Melbourne). An all-rounder in the kitchen, you can find him baking, preparing entrees or mains or creatively plating desserts. Go with the Chef's Menu to get the best of what Tuta brings to the table, including one of his favourites—the prawns and flatbread.

A man with arms crossed looking to camera outside a cafe.

Roaster Bob Bell at Boasters Coffee Roasters

1180 Haupapa Street

Coffee has always been one of owner-roaster Bob Bell's passions. At family-owned Boasters Coffee Roasters, beans are lovingly roasted on a classic and timeless 15-kilogram Toper Roaster, and the shop's Original Roast is a nutty, medium-dark brew with notes of berry shining through. Bob and his wife, Rachael, have anchored the community behind each cuppa with a little lending library in-store and active presence at events around the Bay of Plenty. On top of his dedication to constant improvement, Bob and Rachael are also keenly aware of coffee's impact on the environment and strive to reduce their footprint wherever possible.   

Claudia Knight from Eastwood Café

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Longmile Road, Whakarewarewa, Rotorua

Plenty Group's operations and events manager, Claudia Knight, was instrumental in opening Eastwood Café's doors in 2020. Located on the ground floor of the Scion Research Centre, wood is the star of the space, with the minimalist design and exposed wooden beams a nod to Scion's forestry connections. Leveraging her 15 years of hospitality experience, Claudia's specialty is operations and logistics—problem-solving on the fly to ensure each customer has a fantastic experience. From the menu, she recommends the Green Bowl, which is heaped with seasonal greens, squeaky-salty halloumi, za'atar avocado and runny poached egg, and the wood-fired pizzas, Eastwood's specialty.

A man and woman holding a basket of bread smiling to camera.

Founders Alex and Sue Burge of Ciabatta Café and Bakery

Trained patissier Alex and his wife, Sue, have established themselves in Rotorua as having some of the best artisan bread. Self-taught bakers Alex and Sue then launched a wholesale operation baking out of their backyard, eventually opening their cafe, where Alex built all the furniture and fittings. 

Their space, Ciabatta Café and Bakery has been around for an astonishing 13 years—long enough for Sue and Alex to have transitioned into leading and supporting a team, giving the duo some breathing space to enjoy catching up with our customers over coffee and a bit of travel. Known for its loaded sandwiches (on the cafe's namesake ciabatta bread), Sue recommends our new Reuben on housemade toasted rye sourdough and Ciabatta's famous Longdog—a German frank on a 40-centimetre ciabatta filled with homemade sauces and topped with melted cheese! The cabinet is also chocka with sweet offerings, including some of Alex's cronut flavour inventions. Ingenuity and quality anchor everything they do—and are why Ciabatta Café is so beloved by locals and visitors alike.

Sidak Saluja at Atticus Finch

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3010/1106 Tutanekai Street, Rotorua

At the helm of fusion restaurant Atticus Finch is its owner-director Sidak "Sid" Saluja. With a decade of experience in the hospitality industry and a background in business management, Sid brings a strategic vision and passion for customer experience to the eatery. In 2023, Atticus Finch took three wins at the Rotorua Hospitality Awards—a testament to Sid's high standards. He says the restaurant, located in Rotorua's ever-popular covered Eat Streat hub, has an "awesome vibe" and that customers can expect "fresh, share-style plates paired with high-quality drinks". Some of his favourites from the menu? The ginger sesame fried chicken, Asian fusion pork dumplings and the spice-rubbed New Zealand lamb rump.

Neat Rotorua Places

Social Club

People dining inside Social Club.
Place Rotorua
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Social in name and character, this eatery is a bright and vibrant place to park up with a group of friends any time of the day.

Poco Tapas and Wine

A table setting underneath a window looking out towards a sunny Rotorua street.
Place Rotorua
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The entranceway to Poco Tapas & Wine (“Poco” meaning “a little” in Spanish) in Rotorua isn’t immediately evident from the street, but once...

McLeods Booksellers

Close up of cookbooks on a table.
Place Rotorua Editor's Pick

An independent, family-owned bookshop in the heart of Rotorua, celebrating over 75 years in the biz.

Zippy Central Café

The cafe interior.
Place Rotorua
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Fast-paced and a stone’s throw from the town centre, this local favourite café certainly lives up to its name.