Twenty-five years ago, when Robyn Jones and her then-husband, now business partner, Nick started Mudbrick on Waiheke Island, they were exploring new territory and neither had a vision for what it would grow into. Nor did they dream that their (not even yet thought-of) daughter would join them in the business.
Mudbrick emerged from humble beginnings as a bare lifestyle block with incredible views that Robyn and Nick – both reluctant accountants with no knowledge of horticulture – spent every weekend planting with shelterbelts, trees, and vines, most of which died.
The Vineyard Dream
“The idea was for it to be a vineyard but it morphed into so much more,” says Robyn. “We built what was to be a barn/house/winery out of mudbricks because I loved the look of them. Nick wasn’t sure but acquiesced when he discovered mudbrick buildings provide perfect conditions for ageing and storing wine.”
While they were waiting for their first vintage to mature, Francesca was born, followed by Oscar. “We didn’t even have a room for Francie then so she lived in the closet,” smiles Robyn.
One night while sipping wine and taking in their view the couple decided to start a café. “We didn’t have any experience in hospitality and we quickly learned I was the worst waitress and that you need experienced staff,” says Robyn.
Mudbrick Restaurant & Vineyard
Fast forward to 2019 and Mudbrick is renowned for spectacular views, a notable vineyard, outstanding gardens offering both aesthetic beauty and produce, and an award-winning restaurant and wedding venue with a variety of stunning accommodation options. “Mudbrick is a place to come to and enjoy – I call it pure relaxation,” says Robyn.
“It’s romantic,” adds Francesca. “People get engaged there, they go on first dates there, and they get married there. It’sabout love, Mudbrick was built on love and we adore how romantic it is. We enjoy creating that ambience.”
Augustus by Mudbrick
Last year, they added Augustus in Ponsonby to the fold to bring a touch of Mudbrick magic to Auckland. Housed in the historic Post Office building on the corner of St Marys Road, Augustus has a casual European feel with a monochrome interior and ubiquitous potted plants.
Formerly a fine dining French restaurant, they kept the name and décor while creating a more relaxed vibe underpinned with the Mudbrick stamp of inimitable food and a stellar wine list. And true to its pedigree, Augustus also presents the perfect inner-city wedding venue.
A Hidden Gem
“We wanted to create a local friendly format and kept it pretty much the same though we added more plants – we love plants,” says Robyn. “This building is romantic and beautiful. In cities like New York people seek out the hidden gems, we want this to be Auckland’s hidden gem.”
“People can come for a meal or just to have a glass of wine,” says Francesca. “We’ve drawn from different parts of Europe with the menu, using what’s in season and the ‘best of’.”
Mouth-watering temptations are already earning them accolades and include goats cheese croquettes with honey and almonds, freshly shucked Kaipara oysters with chardonnay vinaigrette, and a house-smoked beetroot medley with pickled red onions, medjool dates, walnuts and vine-ashed goat’s cheese.
Francesca works between Augustus and Mudbrick about 50/50 and Robyn commutes regularly. The pair have a close relationship and enjoy working together. “We’re pretty similar so it’s amazing,” says Francesca.
“It’s fantastic working with Francie – we hired her for her marketing skills but her role is more of a junior operations manager now,” adds Robyn. “She’s involved in the big picture. It can be tough because some of our team have known her since she was a baby – I’m about to go to Italy for six weeks, which will overlap with Nick’s holiday so Francesca will be holding the fort.
“When you have a business you have to live and breathe it. I can text Francie anytime night and day and say, ‘What do you think of this?’ It’s like having a buddy, I haven’t had that before, I’ve always been the boss. We support each other emotionally.”
Women In Hospitality
Robyn says you need that support in hospitality. “The kitchen’s still quite male-dominated – there’s a smattering of women but not many, and out front is the last bastion of sexism. A drunk customer being disrespectful to a waitress is not uncommon. He’s not going to act like that with his PA, offices have evolved since Mad Men times and there are rules, but not in our case.
When you’re dealing with people who are drinking they change. It requires an amazing skillset. I think wait people are very underrated—the good ones are very clever. It’s a funny industry because no one talks about these things but I think it’s important to as a way to move society forward.”