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Meet the Pioneers – Fleur Caulton, Entrepreneur restaurateur

The founder of New Zealand’s famous Madam Woo explains how Queenstown has been part of her success

Fleur Caulton is as close to a local as any. She set up the first tapas restaurant in Queenstown in the 1990s, and since then has made her mark on the hospitality scene, now Founder and CEO of Go To Collection Ltd parent company to the very popular Madam Woo, Hawker & Roll, and Rata restaurants nationwide. Would she have been so successful anywhere else? She tells us why Queenstown is hotbed for entrepreneurs, a place that attracts fascinating and visionary people, people just like Fleur.

I’ve always loved food. Mum is an amazing cook. We were eating chickpea curry in the early 80s, when people didn’t even know what a chickpea was. She an is inspiration, and we’ve all turned out to be food orientated. As soon as I could work, I was in hospitality in restaurants, and cafes, later setting up a catering company. I enjoyed the atmosphere, it suited my personality. I also understood I had a penchant for hard work, thriving on long hours, so I knew I could make something out of my new venture.

I was a mad keen skier, so spent a couple of winter seasons in St Anton in Austria and then floated around the Med for summer on an amazing super yacht for a Spanish family, on returning to New Zealand I pronounced to my mother, “I’m moving to Queenstown and opening a tapas, wine bar.” Just like that.

At the age of 21, with a 50K no guarantee cheque from the bank and a container full of stuff, I headed to Queenstown and design, built and opened what would become the first of many restaurants, Solera Vino. There were only about 7000 people here, and it was like the wild west. “Fascinating”.

I am very hands on in the restaurants, and have made plenty of mistakes along the way, but that is how you learn, on the job. A few financial bumps in the early days of Solera then after 9 years I sold the business successfully, and went to work for Darby Partners at Lake Hayes Vineyard.

It was here I grew into the GM role and instrumental in creating all things Amisfield. What an amazing experience to create and grow what is now a global brand. The owners gave me a great amount of freedom to use my creative skills and hone my business acumen. I was 30 when I started and grew the brand to be globally recognized, an achievement I am hugely proud of.

I have met an great array of people in Queenstown throughout my career, from all around New Zealand, and the world and from different walks of life. And because I am never one for thinking about what can go wrong, but rather what can go right, I was open to a lot of great conversations. I made huge connections with a lot of influential people and that opened a lot of doors.

You will come across highly influential, accomplished and inspiring people at every turn in Queenstown. For me Sir Eion Edgar [a new Zealand businessman and philanthropist bestowed with the New Zealand Order of Merit], has been hugely helpful in realising my dream. He just lives down the road. I also recently had the opportunity to talk to Debbi Brainerd [American Philanthropist] from Camp Glenorchy [New Zealand’s first Net Zero Energy accommodation] about their sustainable initiatives, something I feel is very important to the success of Queenstown and New Zealand’s future.

Queenstown is and has always been a place that people want to come to; all sorts of people, amazing, awe-inspiring people. They are more accessible because it’s a small place. These people and the amazing things they do are all possible in Queenstown. There’s no ceiling here, and that has always resonated with me. I never see a ceiling.

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This is the story of us, and of the people in Queenstown that inspire us. It’s about keeping it real, slowing down, and stopping to talk to strangers. It’s about trying new things, great food, skis on snow and on the water, athletes, architects and entrepreneurs. It’s about living in paradise every day. Click here to read our stories and be inspired.

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