Tributes have poured in for Auckland restaurateur Barton Littlejohn, following his death earlier this week.
Littlejohn, who died on 23 August at the age of 57, is survived by wife Robyn and sons Zac and Tom.
Littlejohn was the owner of Auckland’s Sails and his life was inextricably linked to the restaurant industry. It was a passion he inherited from his parents Valerie and Phillip Littlejohn, the co-owners of Wellington’s famed Orsini’s restaurant.
It was at this venue that he got his first taste of the determination it takes to run a restaurant.
He spent his early childhood in a flat attached to the restaurant, living with his folks and older sister.
As he turned 12, the family would pack their bags in Wellington and move north to open a new branch of Orsini’s in what is now the ASB Trust Building on Ponsonby Rd.
By the time he was 15, his apprenticeship within the restaurant had kicked into full gear. Despite having his parents as the owners, he didn’t have a silver spoon presented to him. He started off in the kitchen, washing dishes and cleaning up, like any kitchen hand.
“It was a baptism of fire,” he would later tell the Herald in an interview about his start in the industry.
In 1991, after his father fell ill he and his mother would move on from Orsini’s to open Sails, the restaurant that would become his home away from home over the next 30 years.
His affable personality and his willingness to always give his customers something a little extra allowed him to build a reputation that has stood the test of time.
In the competitive restaurant industry, the heartfelt words shared by his counterparts provide a glimpse at what this man meant to the industry.
Fellow chef and school friend Simon Gault honoured Littlejohn with a public post on Facebook, saying that he was devastated by the loss of his old friend.
“I have so many fantastic memories that will never be forgotten,” said Gault.
“My love and thoughts go out to all Bart’s incredible team at Sails restaurant, beautiful loving wife Robyn, loving mum Valerie, sister Jude and Bart’s pride and joy Zac & Tom. A true friend gone too soon.”
Littlejohn and Gault shared close ties for many years, working together at various moments in their prestigious careers.
But Littlejohn didn’t only leave an impact on his old school friend Gault.
Marisa Bidois, chief executive of the Restaurant Association, described Littlejohn as a personal mentor and valued member of the hospo community.
“Bart gave up so much of his time to training and mentoring others, enabling young people to get a start in the industry as well as offering advice and help to other businesses,” Bidois said.
“His passing will be a huge loss to the industry but also to his wife and two children who he has left behind. Our thoughts are with his family as they deal with this devastating loss.”
Krishna Bottica, the owner of Cafe Hanoi, Saan, XuXu and Ghost Street, described the death of Littlejohn as the “passing of one of our own”.
“Bart was always generous with his time, kept us on our agenda and worked tirelessly to help the industry that he loved,” Bottica said.
“In the words of our Marisa, Bart was ‘always a giver’. He was always there to offer advice, support and enthusiasm to others and he will be sorely missed by both industry and patrons alike.Our thoughts are with Robyn and his family in the sad days, months and years ahead.He was larger than life and the hole left behind will be great.”
One day when the world opens again, no doubt a few regulars will be heading down to Sails for a glass of wine and crayfish special to reminisce about the life and times of one of the good ones.
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