Aberdeen on Broadway, the restaurant that bares the recognisable AngusPure ‘A’ above it’s front door, took out ‘Restaurant of the Year’ at the Manawatu Hospitality Awards 2014-15.

Fifty percent of the restaurant is owned by AngusPure’s Guy Sargent and his partner Deborah Banks.  The other fifty percent is owned by 23-year-old Hannah McCaskie, a high school drop-out who fell into a job at Aberdeen four years ago and has never looked back.

As well as ‘Restaurant of the Year’, Aberdeen staff also took second place prizes in ‘Chef of the Year’, ‘Maitre d’ of the Year’ and ‘Waiter of the Year’.

The accolades are a far cry from the restaurant’s humble beginnings.  Guy started the business with David Bennett and Paul Humphries in 2007.  By 2008 David and Paul had sold out and Sargent was the sole owner.

Deborah came on the scene at Aberdeen six months later to help out while she was in-between business projects.  Back then they were doing sixty-odd meals on a busy night and it was mostly walk-ins, which meant it was difficult to plan staffing and kitchen requirements.  The worst night they had was a total dining number of just two.

The restaurant interior was white back then, with numerous bulls heads scattered around the walls. “It just didn’t work, it wasn’t a good fit for Palmerston North at all”, says Deborah.  So, the interior was all re-done, an expensive but worthwhile task, that was the beginning of a big turnaround in numbers coming through the door. Perhaps the biggest change was changing the name from Aberdeen Steakhouse and Bar to Aberdeen on Broadway.

Four years ago, “Hannah walked through the one day and asked for a job. I instantly saw potential, she was just so vibrant and passionate”, says Deborah.  Hannah had been working as an apprentice chef at Cafe Cuba in Palmerston North.

“Deb told me that if she couldn’t get me a job in the kitchen, she’d do her best to get me out front”, says Hannah.  By July 2013 Hannah had purchased a share of the business and in March 2015, she was fifty-fifty with Guy and Deborah.

The last three years have seen a big advertising push in local newspapers, on billboards and in social media.  The exterior of the building has also been completely overhauled, a move that Deborah says, “Was absolutely necessary”.

The awards came at a good time for the team at Aberdeen. “We’ve got the best front of house and kitchen teams that we’ve ever had”, says Deborah.  This shone through on the night of the awards and the whole team were there to celebrate.

It’s hard to gauge whether the nods have brought in extra business. Over November and December the restaurant was fully booked seven nights a week, though this wouldn’t be unusual pre-Christmas. January is usually a quieter month though and in 2015 it’s shown no backing off, numbers are still quietly increasing. A busy night is now 150 diners.

Bookings are definitely essential at Aberdeen, it’s a far cry from the Steakhouse is was back in 2007. The majority of plates put through the kitchen were AngusPure in the early days, however this has now pulled back to about fifty percent as the rest of the menu has improved and there’s now something on the menu for everyone.

Young Hannah is learning every aspect of the business and hopes that one day she may own it entirely. “For now I think we work really well as a team.  It wouldn’t be Aberdeen without Guy and Deb and it wouldn’t be Aberdeen without me”, says Hannah. She also jokes, “Apparently I’m not allowed to get married, have children of do anything except for work here for now”.

Deborah currently does all the office side of the business during the day and Hannah is maitre d’ in the evenings, meaning one of them is almost always there. “The best thing about Hannah is that she’s a fully qualified chef, knows the bar and front of house. She can work in any aspect of the business and can step in if there’s a shortfall”, says Deborah. She adds that when she started out in the business she treated it as if it were her own and believes, “Hannah has that same attitude and that’s why she is where she is now”.

The big challenge now is to continue to grow, whilst maintaining such a high standard. The trio have tossed ideas around for complimentary businesses. A cafe would help to pull in the lunch crowd and would also help to better utilise the staff.

The awards don’t come around again until 2016-17 and I have no doubt Aberdeen will go in with guns drawn. The team are a formidable force, one we will be seeing a lot more from in future.

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