Story by Stuff Reporter Helen Harvey
Eleven years ago, Dicky Chattha started at the bottom as a kitchen hand at New Plymouth’s much-loved Arborio restaurant.
Now, together with his wife Preet, they employ 70 people and own six cafes and restaurants in the city, their most recent acquisition the one where he got his first job.
“Arborio was always on my list. Because I loved that place. I loved it from day one. And the place has produced so many great chefs who have gone on from there,” he said.
Owning so many restaurants was not Chattha’s plan. He came to New Plymouth from India to train as a chef at the Western Institute of Technology at Taranaki (Witt), after completing a degree in Hotel Management, when he started his first job at Arborio.
“I was 21 years old at that time. And I had no idea what's going to happen in the next 10 years. We hadn't planned this. This is just happening.”
After working at Arborio for about a year, he moved on to Bella Vita, on Devon St East, which he ended up buying in 2014 and now runs with Preet.
“That was my first one. That was my baby. And now it's my wife's baby as well. She loves that place.”
He has since bought Lush, in Centre City, the Backyard Cafe, the Daily News Cafe in Puke Ariki Library and Ate Fortyone on Tukapa St. Along the way he bought and sold Gusto, on Ocean View Parade.
Chattha now has 70 people working for him and reckons looking after his staff are the key to his success.
“Look after your staff and they look after the business. That's pretty simple.”
And while a degree helps, the only way to learn is through experience, he said.
“I learn new things every day, but if you try to run a restaurant where you have no experience, of course that's not going to help. You need to know what you are doing.”
While the lockdowns were hard and stressful, they made it through with lots of local support, he said. And when they did reopen the doors they were very busy.
Chattah used to do all the books and the office work, but now Preet has taken over, leaving him free to get out around his businesses to see how everything is going, he said.
The couple met at university in India in 2007 and got married in India in March 2020, six days before New Zealand went into lockdown.
It took Chattha five months to get back, while Preet arrived in February last year.
Since she has been here, Chattha has looked again at his businesses and invested in new ones.
“That’s just the support you get from your life partner. Before I was just working so hard because I was by myself. She takes off all the pressure for me of the admin side. Even though I have so many businesses, we still do our own books.
“I just come to work with a big smile, and I'm happy every morning. And I just get into it. Everyone asked me, ‘Do you sleep?’ I’m sleeping well.”
Picture by Vanessa Laurie
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