‘Grand­fa­ther of din­ing scene’ dies


Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By KIM KNIGHT

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.

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