Nestled within the picturesque Karangahake Gorge near Waihi, you’ll find Falls Retreat, a beautiful rustic venue with a delectable bistro and charming accommodation. Lovingly created 15 years ago by husband-and-wife duo, Emma Walters and Brad King, Falls Retreat also hosts weddings, functions, cooking classes and sustainability workshops.

“Falls Retreat is a unique place where you can reconnect with food, nature and each other,” says Falls Retreat co-owner, Emma Walters.

Emma and Brad are the face of Falls Retreat – Emma is the operations manager and Brad is the executive chef. Very much a family business, you’ll find their two children – aged 11 and 15 – helping out where they can. Falls Retreat employs 15 staff but this number expands to 30 in the summer season.

“Finding good staff has always been a challenge, even prior to Covid,” says Emma.

“It’s important to invest in your staff. We have tried to create a family environment for our team and have staff that have stayed with us for seven years which is almost unheard of in hospitality. We are nothing without our people.”

Emma first accessed Regional Business Partner (RBP) funding six years ago, working with Deloitte in Hamilton to split Falls Retreat into different business departments – the Bistro, accommodation and functions/catering – to understand which parts of the business were most profitable.

She says: “We’ve survived Covid because we had already diversified into accommodation, functions and workshops – that was our saving grace. But like many hospitality businesses in New Zealand, we have struggled to find staff since Covid and have had to resort to reducing the bistro’s opening hours to three or four days per week. This, added to rapidly increasing food costs, has changed the whole dynamics of our business model."

Emma applied for Regional Business Partner funding again in 2022 as she wanted some expert advice about the direction Falls Retreat should take.

The couple were delighted with the initial progress they made with Deloitte so approached Soda to request RBP funding, specifically requesting to work with Deloitte again to develop a one-year and five-year plan for Falls Retreat.

“The Falls Retreat Bistro has the highest turnover of the business but also has the biggest expenses and biggest challenges. We worked with Deloitte to remodel the business so that we aren’t as dependent on the bistro. We’re now focusing on selling packages and special experiences, rather than being reliant on a high volume of customers just buying a pizza from our bistro.”

Emma and Brad intend to invest more into creating more accommodation options, expand their range of cooking workshops to attract more customers, start running more ticketed events and offer unique experiences such as a girls getaway, foodie experience or Hauraki Rail Trail adventure and have a new special Intimate Dining Experience lined up for this winter in their bistro.

“Our plan is to serve less people but have our customers walk away with a higher value product and an amazing experience. We’re passionate about food and sustainability so we want to share and showcase what we do,” emphasises Emma.

Read more about Falls Retreat's latest offerings.

Check out the Falls Retreat website.