Gerrick Numan is the director of Thousand—A hotel design studio that is proving to be an absolute force to be reckoned with. And while you’ve never heard of them before, you’ve certainly reveled in their work: the team of hospitality-obsessed interior architects and designers are behind the look. and the ambiance of some of Aotearoa’s most iconic bars, cafes and restaurants.
We caught up with Numan to hear about his journey from construction graduate to design mogul, the impact of COVID-19, and well-done hotel design.
You started in construction, how did you get into hotel design?
I have loved restaurants and cafes since I was a child. I worked in cafes in high school and college, studied construction, didn’t like the corporate world, moved to Melbourne and opened a cafe with a friend . I worked 80 to 100 hours a week and opened three more cafes before realizing that I would rather design and open them than manage them. So I converted myself, I found a job in another hotel design studio, I worked my way up the ranks in that company until I was second in charge, before reaching a cap and deciding that I had no choice but to go out alone.
What makes what you do unique?
I think a lot of designers design for their contemporaries, but we design to bring our clients’ dreams to life and to give them the best possible foundation for their business success. We focus on efficient design to create an amazing experience that makes sense to customers and has a labor-efficient kitchen, bar, and facade layout, but one that doesn’t cost much. not a million dollars. I’ve spent my own money in venues before because I never want our clients to overcapitalize.
What’s the biggest “fuck yeah” moment of your career so far?
The design of the Behemoth Brewery brewery and pub was a milestone. It was a big project and the end result was a true inner representation of what the brand stood for and who the customers are.
Were there times when you just wanted to throw in the towel?
Yes and no. There are constant hurdles, whether it’s getting sales, designing a concept well, dealing with the board, building the place, managing, developing and training your team, there are constant problems and failures along the way. But it applies to everything you do, so I don’t really see that as a problem.
Explain to us your process of creating a restaurant concept.
We design to bring our clients’ dreams to life so that our interiors never have a theme or trend. We start with a form that our clients fill out to explain their likes, dislikes, values, target market, offerings, motivations, aspirations, goals and more. We analyze and break this down to come up with a visual language – in the form of a proposed material and color palette – that represents who they are, what they stand for, and who they are trying to appeal to. At the same time, we are carrying out a proposal for the layout of the restaurant, bar and kitchen areas and the associated technical drawings. We present the layout to clients for comment, and the drawings to outside consultants to obtain a building permit if we need it. Once we have approved what the place looks like, we send the drawings to the trades for pricing, and as soon as we come up with a price and the building permit is issued, we start at a site. During this process, around 1000 problems arise and the key to success lies in a good relationship between us, the businesses and the customer. As long as everyone has a customer-centric mindset, we can solve anything.
What has been your favorite project to date?
Hand on my heart, I can’t pick a favorite. I see us as a conduit for our clients’ dreams – if we can bring their vision, values and story to life in physical form, it’s an amazing feeling.
It’s fair to say that everyone in the hospitality industry has been hit hard by COVID-19. Do you see any opportunities for the industry in this strange new era?
COVID has wiped out many struggling people, but we are seeing many established operators heading to their second or third locations. I think the opportunities are in the outer suburbs (there is an oversupply of offers in the inner suburbs and only a certain amount of money is available for food and drink). I often encourage people to failing sites because you can avoid building permits and the huge costs associated with plumbing, electrical, fire protection and mechanical installations. That being said, everything has its positives and negatives and a failing site can be restrictive and difficult to get on the right lease. It all depends on the site and the concept. I’m always happy to discuss ideas and issues with people before they commit to a site.
Can you give us any advice on what you are currently working on?
Of course. We just finished Doe Donuts on Great North Road and Bali Nights in Ponsonby. We also have Sumthin Dumplings at Botany and Blend Cafe. We do some Good Dog Bad Dog sites for the legends behind Candy Shop, Dear Jervois and Gochu and another central town concept for these guys too. There’s Knead Cafe in Hobsonville for the team behind Winona Forever and Rude Boy; Rolling Pin Dumplings at Dressmart (and another recently opened on Greenlane); Burger Geek is opening another location in West Lynn and there are many more. We have our hands full!
On the Millé site, you offer lots of advice for hotel scammers. What inspired you to share your learning?
The wish that this stuff was available to me when I first started. When I had the cafes, I was only successful when I convinced a mentor who had opened hundreds of stores to help me and eventually become my business partner. Now that I’ve opened hundreds of stores, I want to help others learn from the countless mistakes I’ve made and hopefully increase their chances of success.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
My ex-mentor and business partner, Simon McNamara, (the ex-CEO of Boost Juice and one of the founders of Grill’d Burgers in Australia) taught me that hospitality isn’t just one thing – it’s the one percent that add up to create an environment that people like or don’t like. Everything is combined: your lighting, your service, your menu, your furniture, your branding, your music, your materials, it all comes together to create an experience that is meaningful to people and that they intrinsically love. I will always be grateful for Simon’s advice and education.
Who are you most inspired by right now?
My clients. The courage and effort it takes to open a place and operate it successfully is beyond admirable. Restaurants, cafes and bars are such an important function in society, this is where we have our first dates, hang out with our friends, celebrate, chill out and reload. And these are exceptionally difficult businesses to run on a daily basis with so many moving parts that often let you down. Hotel owners deserve a lot of respect and they often don’t get it. I must also mention my partner, Rhea – she inspires me every day, is the best mother you can imagine and has helped me more than I could ever explain.
What is your dream for the future?
I would like Millé to offer a comprehensive, turnkey service: designing the interior, the branding, the menu, building the place and also providing the equipment, furniture, lighting and small items. Opening a place is so difficult (especially when it’s the first time) and owners are so often exhausted by the time it opens. I want to relieve my clients’ stress as much as possible and use our expertise and relationships to prepare them for success so that they are free to do what they do best: providing amazing food, drink and service. in an environment that we love. .
If you had a super power, which one would it be?
Invisibility. I have always been an observer.
Favorite coffee for the next morning?
The Fed Deli
Cats or dogs?
Something people would be surprised to know about you?
I have simple tastes when it comes to food – I love the overall experience of an amazing place and how it can create an amazing experience for you and your friends and family – but I’m quite happy with a simple sandwich and a good coffee, because as long as the environment is uplifting.
The best movie / series / book / concert you’ve enjoyed lately?
We just finished watching ZeroZeroZero; would recommend.
Browse other inspiring Kiwi stories here.
Image credit: Millé, Wono Kim for Bali Nights and Peach’s Hot Chicken