Old Boy, Ben Harper, has become a familiar sight to residents of Hawke’s Bay as the front man of his very successful Japanese izakaya restaurant and cocktail bar, Piku, which always seems to be one of the busiest spots in Havelock North.
Ben established Piku, which has become a firm favourite with the local foodie enthusiasts, when he returned from a stint of working in London. The initial outing for the concept was at events like Horse of the Year and the Mission Concert and the response was so enthusiastic that Ben decided to take it a step further and open a restaurant at the Red Barrel Winery in November, 2017. The restaurant has now moved to much bigger premises in Havelock North and added a very popular cocktail bar. Piku has not looked back since and has become extremely popular.
Ben did not go directly into the restaurant business as he studied Biotechnology at Massey University in Palmerston North after leaving school. He then moved to Melbourne where he spent two years working as the manager at a large live entertainment venue in St. Kilda. Broader horizons beckoned and he spent the next few years backpacking through South East Asia and South America before moving on to Canada where he worked in restaurants and on a ski field. Then it was on to London, where Ben worked his way through the ranks in a busy Japanese restaurant in Chelsea until he was the General Manager.
Ben explains the rationale behind starting a Japanese restaurant in Hawke’s Bay; “When I returned home, I decided it would be a waste not to use all the hospitality knowledge I had gained as well as the specialist Japanese background, so I started my own Japanese cuisine business. The thing I enjoy most about this is having customers who are new to Japanese cuisine coming to my restaurant and enjoying their first taste of Japanese food.”
Ben believes that his years at Lindisfarne helped get him through his degree studies: “My education at Lindisfarne was useful for me when at university as the strong academic focus of the school meant that I had an especially deep understanding of science ahead of a lot of my Uni colleagues. After that I wanted to upskill myself with something that I’d be easily able to use when I went off travelling. This led to my developing a wide range of skills which paired excellently with my outgoing nature in the hospitality industry. Having a good well-rounded education is so important in helping you find your way to a successful life.”
Like so many Lindisfarne old boys, Ben’s best memories of school were on the sporting field: “I appreciated compulsory sport a lot more after leaving Lindisfarne as it helps you develop into someone who can work in a team outside of school. I played rugby, cricket, badminton and did clay bird shooting and they all helped to ignite my desire to be the best and win! Winning the Winchester Postal Clay Bird shoot and making it into the long room as part of the mighty 3rd XI cricket team are definite highlights.” In the classroom, Ben recalls that Mr Bovey kept the boys constantly entertained with his schoolboy humour.
Apart from opening his restaurant and making a success of it so far, Ben is proudest of the fact that he had the confidence to go out and approach his life differently and bring out a better version of himself. His advice to our current students would be, “Ignore the “tall poppy syndrome” and strive for your best, no matter who, or what gets in your way. Don’t be in a hurry to map out the rest of your life. When you leave school, you have an education but very little life experience so don’t be afraid to make a change if your heart isn’t truly in what you are doing. It’s your life and you only get to have it once.”
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Article added: Wednesday 06 November 2019