Eugene Whakahoehoe, Owner and Manager, Omakau Commercial Hotel

Eugene Whakahoehoe is the owner and manager of the Omakau Commercial Hotel, Omakau’s first homestead erected in 1989 by William Leask.

As a retired military officer with over 25 years of service with the New Zealand Defence Force, Whakahoehoe has led several organisations within the New Zealand Army both in New Zealand and abroad.  Taking on roles, such as the Director of Recruitment, Chief Instructor at the Combat School, and Chief of Staff, he was deployed on several operations to challenging environments around the world.

There is no history of hospitality in Whakahoehoe’s family. However, like many Māori whānau, the concept of manaakitanga (kindness, generosity, and hospitality) practiced on the marae has shaped the way they approach their business.  “Manaakitanga is expressed through our food, beverages, and the relationships we maintain throughout the business.”

Omakau Commercial’s point of difference is their brewery Dark Horse Brew Werkz, a taproom steeped in history located in the refurbished stables originally built by William Leask. Serving their unique craft beers with a Low & Slow Barbecue menu, it is the perfect location to enjoy a casual drink and hearty meal on top of the historic country hotel package. 

Over the last five years, in addition to the rural-based locals that value the hotel as a community hub, Omakau Commercial has continued to attract hungry Rail Trail tourists and a new group of curious craft beer enthusiasts. The hotel offers a ‘Bikes, Brews and BBQ package’ where guests spend a day on the Rail Trail and finish up in the taproom with some tasty BBQ treats and a selection of craft beers. 

COVID-19 has altered the business landscape and changed the way businesses operate. “Recognising what numbers matter then adjusting our business to the reality of a COVID impacted world needed to happen, and happen fast,” said Whakahoehoe. As a result, Omakau Commercial reorganised and trained their staff in prescriptive procedures to drive efficiencies, doing more with less. The business also invested in software, such as the Loaded Reports and Food Safe Pro, to help make data-driven decisions. 

“The training we have invested into our people is most likely the most beneficial, growing our average customer spend through upselling by Front of House staff.  We also grew our online presence to attract more customers and profile new menu items, events, and specials.”

Prior to the pandemic, Omakau Commercial’s primary guest profiles were the local farmer, contractor, and driver, and the influx of Rail Trail tourists, many from overseas. However, today, in addition to these profiles, there has been an increase in the number of Kiwi tourists ticking off their bucket list. 

Currently, Omakau Commercial plans to expand its craft beer distribution and related merchandise sales online. “We are looking forward to adapting the business again as we move past COVID into a globally connected world and an influx of new tourists.”


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