Getting to know Leo Molloy, an aspirational Mayor of Auckland

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A Jockey-turned-Veterinarian-turned businessman is keen on the challenge

Leo Molloy: Hard Work and Personal Responsibility are not negotiable (Photo Supplied)

Venkat Raman
Auckland, April 30, 2022

Leo Molloy is always surrounded by friends – thick and thin – and over the past two months, admirers and others are seen in his company, since he started talking about running for the Auckland Mayoralty.

Such is the magnetism of the man that everyone listens to him- even if he is not talking.

Leo seeks one of the most challenging jobs in the country, leading its biggest city. He is aware that it will be an exacting exercise and yet decided to take the plunge because he likes to swim in troubled waters. And no one disputes that Auckland is in trouble.

He has an inimitable passion for the job and believes that he can cure the city’s afflictions, and address such formidable issues such as traffic bottlenecks, infrastructure inadequacy, the ever-rising cost of living, the Three Waters Reforms and a host of others- 1.65 million of them and growing as you count.

Growing confidence

What makes the man tick and bring more and more people into his fold (stables is a better word) day after day is the growing confidence that he will deliver; that he means what he says and even says what he means. There are times when you may have felt that he overstates what a mayor can do, talking of such federal issues as the MIQ system and immigration

And the hospitality industry loved him when he assigned to himself the date (December 1, 2021) on which he would open his Head Quarters Restaurant (strategically located in the Viaduct) even if the government continued to hold the city under lockdown.

“This man has guts,” people said and applauded when he decided to run for the post of Mayor.

And Leo has put together a team that exudes immense energy and enthusiasm to match.

Who is Leo Molloy and why is becoming the talk of the town? He tells me that his life is an open book and that success has not always embraced him and yet, he has never given up.

Hundred Days on the Road: Leo Molloy plans an extensive campaign after May 22, 2022 (Photo Supplied)

Special endearing traits

It is perhaps his capacity to endure and persist that has made Leo what he is today.

The only thing that he quit early was school.

“I am a friend of all businesses, especially the small ones, because they need all the support and assistance to make our city more productive,” he said.

Leo does not look a day older than 66 years (born in Greymouth in 1956) and is proud of his Irish-Catholic heritage. His father, Kevin Molloy was a soldier (which explains his fighting spirit) and mechanic, and his mother Maureen worked in the ROA Coal Mine near Blackball.

When Leo was 11, his father tragically passed away, leaving his mother to raise him and his six siblings alone. Through the adversity, she taught him the values of hard work and personal responsibility, the two traits that distinguish him as a man of the people.

Fiercely independent, Leo left home when he was 15 years old and spent the next four years as an apprentice jockey. Getting off, he sought employment in the Ohau B Waitaki Power Project in Twizel, with the sole purpose of earning sufficient money to go for his Overseas Experience.

It was while working with horses in the UK that Leo realised that he wanted to become a veterinarian. He made the brave decision to return to New Zealand, recommence high school as an adult student at 25, and study for seven years to complete his qualification as a Veterinary Surgeon at Massey University. He then worked in the small animal sector, then equine veterinary medicine, for 20 years, teaching him the values of care and respect.

The Iconic Restaurant Head Quarters will close permanently after May 22, 2022 (Facebook)

The business of hospitality

Leo stumbled into hospitality by chance in 1991 when he created a student bar called the Fat Ladies Arms in Palmerston North. His vision and unique approach to business turned the brand into a success story. The chain grew to eight other locations and in 1997 Leo decided to make Auckland his home.

In August 1999, he opened Euro on Auckland’s Waterfront. Euro was the first New Zealand restaurant to be named on Condé Nast Traveller Magazine’s list of top 50 restaurants in the world. This was followed by an Irish pub called Danny Doolans (named after Leo’s grandfather). Both establishments became an integral part of Auckland’s hospitality scene.

The Comeback businessman

After selling Euro in 2002, Leo opened Cardiac. This would present Leo’s greatest challenge yet after the business went bankrupt. Everything Leo had built up to that point was now gone.

But giving up was not his wont and Leo had the iron will and encouraged by the teachings of his mother – hard work and personal responsibility –he was determined to rebuild his life.

He understands that mistakes are a natural part of life and is never afraid to admit them.

“Every mistake is a learning experience and every time I fall, I get up and run again,” he said.

Leo’s comeback started firstly with Cowboys Bar in the Viaduct, then another version of the same in Queenstown, and now the iconic Headquarters Restaurant and Bar on Auckland’s waterfront, which to this day is one of the most successful hospitality venues in New Zealand.

Auckland’s best days are ahead of us: Leo Molloy (Photo Supplied)

Fighting for those in need

Leo has always been a champion for social impact and change and in recent years spearheaded numerous fundraisers and benevolent ventures to change the community for the better. He donated about 20,000 meals a year to various charitable organisations, including the Grace Foundation, a transitional housing provider.

Several years ago, Leo was introduced to Dave ‘Brown Buttabean’ Letele, and on the strength of one meeting, put Letele on Headquarters’ payroll so that he could earn a living while concentrating on his charitable work. Leo also provided personal funding of more than $200,000 to build a Community Kitchen in South Auckland for Buttabean Motivation (BBM) and organised multiple fundraisers at Head Quarters, raising more than $200,000 for BBM.

Vision for Auckland

Leo believes that it is time to give back to the community and go into public service.

“I am running for Mayor of Auckland because I believe that our city’s best days are ahead of us. I believe that Auckland’s potential has been held back for far too long and that nothing is stopping us from having a world-class city on the Pacific Rim to match the likes of Brisbane, Vancouver, or San Francisco,” he said.

Leo has a plan to secure Auckland’s future and help our city reach its full potential.

Despite all the success that the Head Quarters has registered over the years, Leo has decided to shut it down on May 21, 2022. But it will open the next day, just for a few hours to bring together a large gathering at which he will formally announce his decision to enter the Mayoral ring.

That may sound unusual but that is the Leo brand.

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