New Zealand restaurateur and Auckland’s Sails owner Barton Phillip Littlejohn – who early in his career worked at Bell House in Pakuranga – has died.
Simon Gault, a renowned New Zealand chef and entrepreneur, met Littlejohn at school.
“He was a character,” Gault told the Times. “He was full of life and a great entertainer.”
They have been life-long friends ever since.
Littlejohn, 57, was brought up in the restaurant industry, Gault says. His parents Valerie and Phillip Littlejohn were the co-owners of Wellington’s fine-dining restaurant Orisini during his childhood. When he was 12, they moved to Auckland and opened up a new branch of Orisini on Ponsonby Road.
Valerie told media group Stuff, “Bart was a restaurant baby. He used to sit in a little chair down in the kitchen and watch all the chefs prep”.
“He knew the industry inside and out,” Gault says. “He lived and breathed it growing up.”
When Littlejohn arrived back from his five years in London, he and Valerie opened Sails – the restaurant he would spend the rest of his life pouring his passion and knowledge into.
“He had fantastic wine and food knowledge,” Gault says.
“Wine was another passion of his that he excelled in.”
Gault says that, because of Littlejohn being brought up in fine-dining, he knew the exact way of doing things whether it was rolling a trolley up to the table and carving a duck or a rack of lamb, making cocktails, answering questions about the wines and guiding people down the path to having an experience that surpassed their expectations in the restaurant.
For people visiting Sails looking to celebrate anniversaries or have an enjoyable dinner, “Bart was a consummate expert at giving them a good time and rolling them out the door with a huge smile on their face.”
He knew how his customers were feeling and tailor the night to suit them”.
Littlejohn’s passion has extended to his son Zac who works at Sails. “He was also brought up with it,” Gault says. “The tradition will live on with Zac who has all the style and expertise of his dad.”
When Gault was at school, he asked Littlejohn to organise a job for him at a restaurant.
“He told me to get lost”.
Years later their paths crossed as they both worked together at the first restaurant Gault owned, Bell House in Pakuranga, Gault as a chef and Littlejohn front of house.
“It was a little bit of roles reversed.”
Littlejohn was highly-respected within the restaurant industry. “He was an inspirational leader for just about everything he did in the industry and attracted a very high-calibre team to work with him,” Gault says.
What made him such an inspirational leader, Gault says, was his larger-than-life personality, positivity and ability to move past difficult hurdles quickly. “He always had time for people.”
Littlejohn’s passions extended to outside the industry. “He loved cars,” Gault says. “He had a rally car and was a very good driver. He scared the living daylights out of me every time I went into a car with him.”
His unexpected death on August 23 at age 57 has devastated his family and friends. He is survived by his wife Robyn and sons Zac and Tom.
“Our hearts are broken into a million pieces,” his family wrote. “You are our Rockstar; the kindest, most incredible son, husband and father.”
Gault and other figures of the restaurant industry also expressed their sorrow. “I have so many fantastic memories that will never be forgotten,” Gault wrote.