Dean Brown, Chris Watson and Andrea Gardiner have been volunteering for Fire Emergency New Zealand and St John’s while also figuring out what is next for their business. Photo: Sara Hollyman.

Hospitality keeping committed to community


Chris Watson, Andrea Gardiner, Dean and Toni Brown became the new owners of the Speight’s Ale House Nelson in December 2018. Three of them were strangers until they joined the Stoke Fire Brigade. Nelson Weekly reporter Sara Hollyman finds out what it’s like to run a business while remaining committed to the community. 

They started off as complete strangers but now Chris Watson, Andrea Gardiner, Dean Brown say they are like family, brought together by their passion of volunteering.

Dean says a “drunken conversation” in the same bar that they now run, set them on a path of leaving their previous careers behind for one of hospitality, which is something none of them had ever considered.

“I sort of mentioned it and it became a drunken conversation of ‘well we should put together a consortium and buy it’,” he says.

A business development manager suggested it wasn’t feasible and the finances didn’t stack up, but they didn’t accept that and pursued it anyway.

Now almost a year and a half on, the Ale House doors have been closed for the past month due to Covid-19 alert level 4.

The trio have not had time to stop though, all continuing their volunteer work with Fire Emergency New Zealand and Andrea also continuing her role as a St John volunteer first responder.

They say buying a business in the same community that they live and volunteer in, was the right fit.

“It was our local and probably most of the guys at the station as well. That’s the thing when you live here you know a lot of people that come through the door it’s quite good,” says Dean.

“It also helps that it was a Speight’s bar, I’m from Dunedin and Chris is from Invercargill, another beer wouldn’t have sparked that conversation.”

With 44 years of volunteering at the Stoke Fire Station between them, they say there is no chance of them giving it up.

“The draw for me is that it makes you feel good, I feel like I’m doing something for the community and that’s why I like it. It’s good for your mental health to feel like you’re contributing something for no return, that’s my return is the feel-good part of it,” says Dean.

For Andrea it’s the family environment that the brigade created. She decided to volunteer for St John on top of her fire duties after seeing them respond to a medical event of a close relative.

“It’s a pretty trusting environment with the people that you’re working with and it’s nice to help out the community.”

They say each brigade member would average around seven hours a week of volunteer time, including training, but some weeks are much busier than others.

“Some weeks will be really quiet, then other weeks you can have 20 call outs,” says Dean.

“It’s a close family, there’s a lot of trust in one another, you’re going into situations that are really dangerous and really full on that most people don’t experience so you bond over that because you’ve got to trust each other and it pulls you closer together.”

The group also spend much of their limited spare time together, whether it be catching up for a beer, fishing, diving or hanging out with their families.

“What normal people do with want of a better word,” says Chris.

He says they are all looking forward to re-opening the doors at the Speight’s Ale House and welcoming back their customers.

“I think the work we do with FENZ is incredibly important. If we can make a change or a difference in one person’s life in the whole time you’re there, that’s what you’re there for.

“But for me now, the priority is here.”