Alisa Clapham and Henry Newton relish being the new owners of Dino’s Pizza and Pasta Restaurant in Whitianga. I talked to them about their restaurant and found out why moving from Auckland to buy this existing business is so close to their hearts.
During the Covid-19 March lockdown Alisa and Henry re-evaluated what their Auckland lifestyle offered. They decided they wanted something different for their future and some bold moves were required to nurture future opportunities for them and their young children.
With strong family connections to the Mercury Bay area and a previous working history at Dino’s Pizza and Pasta Restaurant this new direction away from city life was made relatively easy.
Back to the old stomping ground
As Mercury Bay locals Henry and Alisa worked at Dino’s over ten years ago. This connection to the restaurant in their early hospitality careers made this a go-to choice as the business they wanted to purchase. It was also a uniquely personal experience that they felt came with certain responsibilities.
We purchased Dino’s from our former employer Luke and appreciate the hard work that has gone into the business. Dino’s has been around for over 15 years and has an excellent reputation. Dino’s has always had a popular local following and we’re so excited to have the opportunity to own it. We've kept all of the favourite menu items and created some special new dishes of our own. We love the casual family atmosphere of the restaurant and will be adding a bit more local flavour with Mercury Bay artists work on our walls.
Dino’s Pizza and Pasta Restaurant owner, Henry Newton.
Top foodie tips and quick-fire questions
All About Whitianga: What is your top cooking tip?
Henry: Less is more is the mantra. Keep the ingredients simple and let the flavours talk for themselves. As an aside – cheese pizzas are great!
What are good staples for a home pantry?
Henry and Alisa: We regularly use Udon noodles as a fast and easy option for stir fry meals with our young kids. For flavoursome meals rosemary and thyme are always great for a range of dishes. Also salt, a generic cooking oil and a more specialist cold pressed oil will never go astray in your pantry.
What new item on your menu should everyone try?
Alisa: Definitely our new Panuozzo which is our specialty pizza sandwich. We have meat and plant-based options and it's proving extremely popular. We’ve had lots of feedback from customers who say they are amazing.
What is your top food memory?
Henry: The first time I had ever eaten a properly cooked medium rare steak which was at The Lost Spring restaurant.
Alisa: Every Christmas going to Grandma’s house at Whangapoua she would put on the best spread of absolutely everything.
Something you love cooking right now?
Henry: At Dino’s it’s the Pizza specials like the Chef’s best. At home I recently cooked a braised pork belly in milk with fennel seeds and garlic and it was mighty tasty.
Alisa: I like eating Henry’s food!
If you could invite anyone to share a meal at Dino’s who would it be?
Henry: Joe Rogan who is currently the most famous podcaster in the world. He has incredibly interesting conversations with his guests and he is super motivational.
Alisa: My Granddad as he would have been super proud of what we have achieved.
What are your family connections to the Mercury Bay?
Henry: I grew up in Whangapoua where my Dad still lives. I was actually the second to last baby born in the Coromandel hospital before it was closed down!
Alisa: My grandparents were from Whangapoua and Mum and I moved to the Bay when I was 16. I went to Mercury Bay Area School. Henry and my family knew each other before either of us was born, so our local and family connections are strong.
Popular items on the menu
Dino’s has a diverse range of pizza and pasta meals with meat, plant based and gluten free options. The top customer favourite (the M.V.P pizza) had a lot of customer input into it.
A few years ago, Dino’s ran a competition and locals were invited to create their wish list ingredients for their ideal pizza. There were some very strong contenders and the M.V.P pizza was born. It’s still our most popular dish and is a definite meat lover's dish with bacon, pepperoni, chorizo, ham, chicken and BBQ sauce.
Dino’s owner, Alisa Clapham.
Valuable skillset to establish and grow their business
This couples experience across the hospitality, beauty therapy and civil construction industries bring a range of valuable skills to the business. And leading up to their first opening day they needed to employ all of these skills. It was ‘all hands’ to deck as the duo navigated food regulations, and a 'mountain of paperwork' while getting to know their staff and exisiting business systems. As it happens, day one went off without a hitch.
While things haven't slowed down a team of six staff are in place to assist Alisa who focuses on managing front of house and administration, and Henry who chefs and develops the menu.
Nostalgic future plans
For Henry and Alisa, the return to the Mercury Bay community has been familiar, nostalgic and at times challenging. Their move to Whitianga was calculated and deliberate and has created a journey of reconnection. In Dino’s they have taken a loved business that had nurtured their early careers and are now developing as the new owners with fresh new ideas. Dino’s has become a big part of their story for the right now and for their future plans.
For the right now it’s highly recommended that you pop into Dino’s and try the Panuozzo – pizza sandwich.
Bonus: local tip on a place to visit
A walk to New Chums beach because it’s so unique. For a trip out on the water to get spectacular views of Mercury Bay a cruise with Ash and Shona from Sea Cave Adventures.
Contact Dino's Pizza and Pasta Restaurant
To book a table, see the menu or order a takeaway contact Henry or Alisa on the related link below.