Criterion Hotel set to reopen this month

Meeting the criteria . . . The new-look Criterion Hotel, with lessees Katrina McLarin (left) and Brenda Laverick, is almost open for business

The countdown is on for the reopening of the Victorian precinct’s ‘‘flagship building’’.

Casa Nova and Restaurant 1861 owners Katrina McLarin and Brenda Laverick were signed up as leaseholders of the Criterion Hotel by the Whitestone Civic Trust in May.

After months of renovation work, including the installation of an $80,000 kitchen, the pair are planning to open for business before the month is out.

Ms McLarin estimated more than $200,000 had gone into refreshing and ensuring the ‘‘long-term viability’’ of the building. The trust covered any improvements made to the actual building, while Ms McLarin and Ms Laverick covered all other expenses.

‘‘We wanted to keep the elements that we thought were very important to the historical nature of the building intact, but we wanted to enhance it,’’ she said.

‘‘Being the flagship building for the entire Victorian precinct, it was important to us that we could create a space that welcomed visitors and locals alike into this area of Oamaru that’s so significant.’’

The women had been working ‘‘exceptionally hard’’, in partnership with the Civic Trust, to get the building ready to reopen.

The bar area decor had been changed with the introduction of William Morris wallpaper, and the heritage green paint — from Aalto Paints — which was visible at the entrance would be taken through inside as well, Ms McLarin said.

Willetts Furniture bar leaners and stools were being retained as ‘‘part of the history of Oamaru and its craftsmanship’’, but the wood had been darkened.

The kitchen was ‘‘absolutely’’ the biggest investment for the couple, but was necessary, and would enable the establishment to cater for upwards of 100 people.

The restaurant had also been extended throughout the ground floor of the building, with different dining zones available for private functions and events, through the redevelopment of the Victoria and Albert dining room and the snug.

Accommodation upstairs, which was previously available to guests, would now be used to house staff.

It was no secret there was a huge shortage in hospitality staff, and providing accommodation made the move to Oamaru a more attractive opportunity, Ms McLarin said.

The key personnel of a head chef, maitre d’ and restaurant manager had been hired, but more workers were still being sought.

The menu was mostly under wraps for now, but the pair were adamant they did not want to compete with other businesses in the immediate area.

‘‘What other places are doing, they’re doing very well. Our focus, we come from a background of tapas and sharing, and the culture of sharing. So our intention is to use that culture and upsize it a bit.’’

There would be a lamb shoulder to share, a ‘‘signature’’ Criterion beef Wellington and platters.

‘‘So you can come in at any time, if you want to get a small little sharing plate for one, you could, and you just wanted a nice quiet drink. And you can come in for a lovely meal.’’

There would be Emerson’s beer on tap, a selection of sparkling wine, and also a signature Criterion black doris plum cider which had been created in collaboration with Scotts Brewery.

She wanted the premises to be available for all to enjoy.

‘‘That means it doesn’t matter who you are, or where you’re from, that hopefully you can walk in the doors here and feel comfortable . . . You know, that everyone could feel like they have a place.’’

Ms McLarin project managed the renovations for the Civic Trust, and said time invested by trust members, such as chairman Graeme Clarke, John Baster and treasurer Michelle Harrison, had helped immensely.

‘‘That’s a huge thing. So, it’s enabled us to do more, some being paid, some not being paid, if that makes sense. It’s enabled both sides’ dollar to go further on what we can get achieved.’’

The final Code of Compliance from council had been issued, and now it was a matter of ensuring they had their ‘‘ducks in a row’’ before opening, Ms McLarin said.

‘‘I don’t think there’s one tourist that comes to Oamaru and doesn’t walk down the Victorian precinct. So it’s great to have us at the opening of that, and then they can go through and experience all the wonderful retailers. . .You know we’ve got great businesses now that I think in time will create some great synergies together to ensure the longevity of this type of area.’’