Small Business migrants: Lee Chang Woo - Wok N Noodle

Wok n Noodle founder Lee Chang Woo. Photo / Supplied
Wok n Noodle founder Lee Chang Woo. Photo / Supplied

Lee Chang Woo arrived in New Zealand from Korea in 1997. He set up the Wok N Noodle bar in 2005 in Mt Eden, Auckland. which he says Is successful due to its value, fresh Asian tastes and Lee's enthusiastic engagement with customers.

He has opened a second Wok N Noodle at in Auckland's CBD, and will franchise the brand next year.

I always wanted to learn English and asked my Dad if I could come to NZ to study and learn English. After three years I decided I did not want to go back, I was working in restaurants and bars here. I also studied for a diploma in business from AUT and in 2004, with my family's help I bought a cafe at 61 Normanby Road, Mt Eden.

I ran it as a cafe for a year and it was pretty painful. One day we did just $280. But I learned a lot that year and I got to know lots of people in the area, people living and working around here too. There were plenty of other hospitality businesses around here too so I had a good time.

Then in 2005 I set up Wok N Noodle, following the trend for noodle bars. I was always interested in Thai food, Korean food was too strong in taste for New Zealanders. So the idea was a Thai noodle food concept, using fresh egg noodles. I looked for Thai chefs who would understand my idea.

My friends from the restaurant trade helped me find staff. In the early days I was in the kitchen but I made way for the professionals and now I spend my days in the front having fun with the customers. I live in the CBD and wanted to open a restaurant on one of the main streets in town. I opened my Shortland Street city branch, across the road from the Vero building, three months ago.

I have found that a lot of my Mt Eden customers work in Shortland Street. My dream is to take the brand to Australia and I'd like to open a Wok N Noodle in Korea. They don't have this sort of fusion noodle Thai restaurant there. I go back once a year to Korea and my family come over once a year to visit me here.

I would also like another Wok N Noodle in the city and another one on the Shore, possibly Albany. At the moment I have 17 staff. I have had a lot of help and advice from NZ advisers along the way from commercial property advisers to my lawyers Martelli McKegg.

Even though I have been here for 13 or 14 years I can still get a bit of confused figuring out the way things work. I still try to go the Korean way!

I haven't had a lot to do with the Korean community in Auckland - my friends in Auckland are mostly Kiwis and other nationalities. I prefer living in New Zealand than Korea. I can't drink much wine in Korea, here I love both red and white NZ wine. I am doing Crossfit training at Rapid Crossfit Sandringham which I enjoy.

I love my business and my life here. If I had stayed in Korea, I would be a salary man, working for a company. I'd be married with two kids. Instead I have lots of adventures here.

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