It was a full-on year for power couple Julie and Ben Fulton. Julie, an EIT travel & tourism graduate, manages the Filipino restaurant PAK at Westshore. Over the last months, she has turned it into a flourishing foodie hub. Ben, a Viticulture and Wine Science Concurrent Degree student, won the Young Vintner of the Year Award. Success however, doesn’t fall from the sky and the couple had to work hard for it.
Julie grew up on the Philippine island of Mindanao. Eleven years ago Julie moved to New Zealand to reunite with her mother (she met her mother when she was 18). Although Julie had completed a hospitality qualification in the Philippines, she took up a job at a packhouse in quality control. That’s where Ben and Julie met and started dating in 2013.
Some of Julie’s friends studied at EIT at the time and encouraged her to follow suit. Being a coffee lover and hospitality enthusiast, Julie enrolled in a Certificate in Food and Beverage (Café and Restaurant Services). She makes no bones about the fact that studying in English was hard. After graduation she took up a job in a coffee shop and continued to work nightshifts in the packhouse. While Julie was still putting in hard yards, things changed when she came back to EIT to study travel & tourism.
With two diplomas under her belt she applied for the restaurant manager job at PAK and was surprised to be picked. “Honestly, I was thrown in at the deep end. Managing staff, ordering stock, invoicing, organising functions, it was all new to me. I’m learning as I’m going,” she admits.
Julie also likes to employ students and to offer them hands-on learning experiences. “I’m not a great delegator so I still tend to do everything. I love to be around our guests and chat to them. I really want the restaurant to bloom, and customer service is the key.”
Julie is a very talented chef herself and well-known for her Pinoy Adobo, a braised meat speciality. “It’s our national dish and also one of the most popular dishes here at the restaurant. The motto of PAK is fresh food not fast food, we support local products and businesses.”
When it comes to match food with the right wine Ben is the go-to person. Ben has been employed by Villa Maria for the past five years on the cellar door. “I really enjoying meeting people, finding out what they like, discussing and selling wine,” he says. With his Young Vintner scholarship he will be assisting with the next vintage at Craggy Range Winery. “I’m very excited to be working there as I greatly admire their products.”
Over the last years, Ben and Julie alternated their study times to support each other. In 2015 for instance, Ben took a gap year while Julie was studying and vice versa. In December 2018 they got married, unsurprisingly in a local winery.
Now, in light of all their commitments it gets tricky to make time for an evening out. Ben often works from 7 am to 5 pm and Julie starts at 12 pm and finishes late, so it’s sometimes just a ‘Hi’ in passing. “But who knows,” they say, “one day it will hopefully pay off and we might own our own winery or restaurant.”