A comfort food chain described as the Denny's of Malaysia is opening up to seven restaurants in New Zealand.
PappaRich, which offers a menu of 160 items including nasi lemak and curry laksa, has more than 100 outlets in nine countries, including Australia and the United States. Its first New Zealand outlet is in Aotea Square's Metro building.
Managing director Steven Loh said plans had already been confirmed for another to open in NorthWest Mall and one in Wellington this year.
"We see a huge potential in New Zealand, and will be opening up to seven restaurants in a bid to popularise Malaysian cuisine," he said.
Mr Loh, 36, grew up in Malaysia but had been living in Australia since 2003, where he had also been involved with the PappaRich business.
He described Malaysian food as "diverse and complex", with a mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian influences.
"Malaysian eateries in Auckland lack good presentation and ambience, although the food is generally well received," Mr Loh said.
"With our upmarket coffee-shop set up, that's a bit like Starbucks, we hope it would draw more people to eating Malaysian on a regular basis."
Mr Loh said the aim was to make Malaysian cuisine as popular as Japanese, Thai or Vietnamese food in New Zealand.
Other locations being considered for PappaRich outlets include Westfield Albany, Auckland's redeveloped Downtown Shopping Mall and Christchurch.
Each outlet will cost about $1.4 million to set up.
Massey University sociologist Paul Spoonley said this could mark the start of Asian chain restaurants coming to New Zealand.
"The size of the Asian communities is now more than ample to generate demand, and you would expect companies to look to Auckland to sell into that market and the chain represents one obvious development," he said.
"What we've seen over the years are typically American multinationals - the McDonald's and Carl's Jr and so on - but we're at a tipping point where new multinationals that reflect that Asian link are coming in and providing an alternative," he said.
Malaysian eateries have been in Auckland since the late 1980s. They were started by migrants from Malaysia but many had later been sold to non-Malaysians.
Last year, celebrity restaurateur Josh Emett also entered Auckland's Malaysian food scene with the opening of Madam Woo in Takapuna.
Malaysian immigrant Ming Tiang, who moved to Auckland in 1976, welcomed the arrival of PappaRich and its "authentic tastes".
"If you're not Malaysian and haven't grown up eating Malaysian, it's not easy to get the taste right even if you had a recipe to follow," said Mr Tiang, an immigration adviser.
At the 2013 Census, there were 16,350 Malaysians living in New Zealand, a 12.4 per cent increase from 2006.
Five signature dishes
• Roti canai
• Curry laksa
• Nasi lemak
• Mee goreng
• Beef rendang
Check out PappaRich online: www.papparich.co.nz