“With Salute our philosophy is if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” says Ken Miller, who now co-owns and runs one of the Wairarapa’s most loved restaurants, with his partner Jason Brumbaugh. By Katherine Robinson.
In fact, since they took over in July, they have frequently had to assure regulars that favourites on the menu will stay on the menu.
“We want to honour what has been established by Travis and Eve, and not really change too much. We will keep the core of the menu but also add a few things,” says Ken.
This includes holding special tasting nights each focusing on dishes based on a different theme. This kicks off with cheese, followed by chocolate, then olive oil. (Yum!)
“It’s a way of letting our customers tell us what they love so we can expand the menu, ultimately we’ll have a rotating menu,” he says.
They moved from California to New Zealand a year ago, allowing Jason, a digital producer who has worked for Disney, Hasbro and Discovery among others, to develop IT roles in the West Coast. He is also a qualified Le Cordon Bleu chef, and the dream of owning a restaurant aligned with putting down roots in New Zealand.
“We have close friends in Greytown, and they told us Salute was for sale, and we should look at it,” says Jason.
Salute had been their first dining out experience in the Wairarapa when they first arrived. They had loved it, and frankly couldn’t believe their luck.
Having said that, their first week at the helm wasn’t exactly plain sailing.
“We call it initiation by the Kiwi gods. Literally, the week after we moved here, all of our possessions were written off in one of the Wairarapa’s worst floods – luckily, we are insured. We were also very short-staffed so I had to jump in front of house during the busiest week in winter. It was a crazy week,” says Ken.
Now, with a full number of staff on board, the restaurant runs as smoothly as ever, and they clearly love living in the Wairarapa.
“We love it that when people ask you ‘how are you’ they actually look you in the eye and are genuinely waiting for a response. In Greytown, you can be at the grocery store and 20 minutes later you are still there talking with the person at the register and all the people around them,’ says Ken.
Ken has a background both in performing and in organising events. He grew up in rural Kentucky, the second eldest of eight children. His talent propelled him to the Broadway stage and to tour the world at a young age. But when he was back home, he’d do the accounts for his father – something that he enjoyed.
“It made me want to get on both sides of the table so I could control my career as an artist. I ended up organising events for charities across the nation and worked with some of the big names in the music industry.”
He has plans in the pipeline to bring some of those contacts to the Wairarapa, by running boutique events featuring international stars of opera, jazz and pop music. But for the moment he and Jason are settling in to the rhythm of running a restaurant.
Despite their high-flying CVs, both Ken and Jason come across as laidback and down to earth.
“You know we can’t believe that we are in Greytown with this great restaurant. It’s daunting, inspiring and thrilling – our aim is to do it justice,” says Jason.