Changing tastes put squeeze on ethnic restaurants

By Lincoln Tan

The New Orient as it was when it opened in the central city in the 1970s. Photo / Rykenburg Photography
The New Orient as it was when it opened in the central city in the 1970s. Photo / Rykenburg Photography

Ethnic restaurants in Auckland are being forced to think beyond sweet and sour pork, fried won tons and sushi - and those which do not keep up with the times are facing the curtain.

Auckland's oldest Chinese restaurant, the New Orient, closed this month after nearly 40 years in business.

This follows the closure of the city's oldest Japanese restaurant, the Ariake Restaurant and Sushi Bar, which folded in the same week after 30 years.

Operators of the two restaurants say changing expectations from Kiwis and new migrants have largely contributed to their demise.

"It used to be enough to have sweet and sour pork and fried won tons on the menu to make it an exotic restaurant to Kiwis, but times have changed," said director David Lam, who has been involved with the New Orient since 1973.

"We have just not been able to keep up with the new restaurants, and it is sad that we have to close."

Mr Lam also blamed the tough economic times, and the lack of carparking in the central city for the closure.

He said about 70 per cent of the restaurant's clientele were Kiwis or local-born Chinese. Few patrons were recent migrants.

Retired seaman Ricky Wallace, 75, remembers the New Orient as a fixture in the Auckland dining scene. It was one of only about three Chinese restaurants in Auckland in the 1970s.

"I've lived in Malaya in my younger days and love eating Asian food. This place used to be the only place where we could get a decent rice meal, and it's eat all you want for one price with live entertainment" he said.

Mr Wallace hasn't been to New Orient in the past 10 years, preferring instead to dine at the food halls or restaurants serving more "exotic" meals set up by more recent immigrants.

"One amazing thing that has happened with immigration is the fabulous food, and Kiwis are just spoilt for choice now," he said.

With increasing migration from Asia and Kiwis more well-travelled, Chinese restaurant operators in Auckland have to think outside their noodle boxes to draw customers.

Many also include "live" fish and crayfish tanks, to emphasise the freshness of what's on the menu.

Jacky Orr, who operates the China Yum Char Restaurant on Beach Rd, this month also started Red Guard Cafe, a Chairman Mao-inspired cafe and restaurant in the city - where staff wear Chinese military outfits.

SkyCity has also renovated and rebranded its Chinese restaurant, Ming Court - now called Jade Dragon.

Ariake manager Miyuki Sakairi said the restaurant suffered because it tried to keep things too traditional.

"To survive in Auckland restaurants needed to give diners good food and new experiences," she said.

- NZ Herald

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