‘Grandfather of dining scene’ dies
The grandfather of Auckland’s dining scene – credited with giving a teenage Kiri Te Kanawa an early career break and businessmen a place to drink wine with their mistresses – has died, aged 96.
Robert ‘‘Bob’’ Sell set up 11 restaurants in central Auckland and on the North Shore.
His first, La Boheme, was established in 1956 and was one of just four licensed eateries in the city.
Sell once recalled how prominent businessmen dined at La Boheme with their girlfriends on a Friday night – and returned with their wives on Saturday.
One of his most famous ventures, The Fisherman’s Wharf, under the city’s harbour bridge, was established in the early 1970s after a protracted red tape battle with the council.
Sell, who died on November 10, reportedly fed fish and chips to 200 Meals on Wheels customers on its opening day.
He was a mentor to many in the hospitality industry and ran restaurants at New Zealand’s Brisbane and Seville Expo pavilions. He also hosted a midnight-to-dawn show on Radio Pacific where one of his phone-ins included Dame Kiri – who rang to remind him he’d paid her just five shillings to perform Ave Maria at his nightclub The Colony.
Sell was born as Robert Shenker in the London suburb of Brixton and spent his formative years in the care of an aunt in Switzerland.
He left school at 14, working in hotels, theatres and circuses before joining the British Merchant Navy, where he changed his name.
Sell stopped in New Zealand en route to Australia in 1954 and ended up staying.
His first job was as a lingerie salesman; his restaurant legacy would eventually include Hungry Horse (average meal cost: 85c), Carvery, Sirloin and Hungry Leopard, cabaret venue Your Father’s Moustache and theatrerestaurant Annabels.
The Hungry Hunter on Auckland’s North Shore was his downfall and when debts hit $600,000, he cashed up.
He told reporters in 2007 that he’d had the most wonderful life anyone could wish for, but modern restaurant food was a disappointment.
‘‘My opinion of the meals today is: Children’s portions, designed by an interior decorator. They look so beautiful – but one bite, and that’s it. In our day, if you ordered flounder – flown in from Lake Ellesmere – or a steak, it would flop over the side.’’
Sell was living at the Edmund Hillary Retirement Village at the time of his death.
A funeral service was held at Waikumete Cemetery on November 12.