Alanah Eriksen is the New Zealand Herald's deputy chief of staff

Central Burger District

Queen St was once Auckland's most famous shopping destination. Now, it's better known as fast-food junkie's paradise

Domasi Tomasi and Maryanne Nuuausala enjoy their burgers at McDonald's. Rachel Anderson and Tony Liu enjoy their donuts. Photo / Natalie Slade
Domasi Tomasi and Maryanne Nuuausala enjoy their burgers at McDonald's. Rachel Anderson and Tony Liu enjoy their donuts. Photo / Natalie Slade

The number of fast-food outlets on Queen St has grown to at least 42, which critics say is not helping Kiwis' growing waistline or an $80 million facelift and the efforts of city planners to make it New Zealand's premier retail and business district.

Ten new takeaways have popped up between Britomart and Aotea Square since July 2011 when the Herald last counted.

A new KFC, in a yet-to-be-decided location, will bring the number to at least 43. That's an increase of 30 per cent.

Queen St already has three McDonald's, three Burger Kings, four Subways, a Wendy's, two Starbucks, a Carl's Jr, a Nando's, a Burger Fuel, 13 dessert shops - including a Dunkin' Donuts - and six kebab stores.

Newcomers include Sal's Authentic New York Pizza, Spanish donut eatery Toto Churro, the Original California Burrito Company and frozen dessert store, Yoghurt Story.

Burger Fixx, which allows the customer to create their own burger, opened the country's first store in the Downtown Westfield in December with plans to roll out three more Auckland stores in the next two months.

Only one takeaway outlet appears to have closed - grilled chicken and burger joint Oporto.

The outlets sit among designer shops including Gucci and Louis Vuitton, as well as countless jewellery shops.

The figures do not include the dozens of takeaway outlets on side streets, nor does it include cafes, bakeries, sushi shops, restaurants, convenience stores and juice bars.

There are three food courts on the street, housing several ethnic-inspired restaurants that were also not included.

Londoner Ludo Campbell-Reid was hired in 2006 as the city's "urban design champion" to help restore the allure of Queen St..

It underwent a $43.5 million facelift - and a further $43.4 million was spent to turn several side streets into spaces where pedestrians and cars share the road.

Footpaths were widened and new lighting, signage, pennants and trees put in to create a "boulevard effect". The finished product won the 2009 Urban Design Award from the New Zealand Institute of Architects.

But though council bylaws allow for it to control lighting and signage, it is powerless over the placement and number of fast-food outlets.

Mr Campbell-Reid said he did not see the upgrade efforts as a failure but there was still work to be done and he wanted to see a better mix of retail and healthy eateries.

"Queen St is the premier high street in the country. We're definitely getting there ... You've got some of the top fashion brands in the world on Queen St.

"But that quality has got to, then, spread perhaps throughout Queen St.

"I don't think (it) should become a fast-food mecca at all. There's good and bad fast-food and what we need to do is have a balance on offer. The council can't really control that.

"In the future, wouldn't it be amazing if there were restaurants in the middle of the street (and) the street was closed to the traffic in places? Wouldn't that be wonderful if people were able to sit outside and there would be high-end restaurants like the French Cafe, but also cheap and cheerful as well?"

Brash takeaway shop signage was a major problem.

"The signage in Auckland is quite often designed for people who are driving vehicles. It's very oversized, it's prolific and each sign is trying to attract and gain higher attention than the next sign. So each sign becomes bigger, better, bolder, brighter, more in-your-face ... What we're trying to say is, less is more.

"At the moment, I find the city is full of too many competing signs that you actually don't know what's on offer and what's being bought."

A report last week revealed that Kiwis ate their way through $1.5 billion worth of takeaways last year - a leap of more than 9 per cent on the previous 12 months.

That's enough to buy 63 Big Macs for every man, woman and child in the country.

And latest Ministry of Health figures show that last year, about one million New Zealand adults and 10 per cent of children were obese.

Fight the Obesity Epidemic chairwoman Robyn Toomath said the council needed powers to control restaurant placement.

"If you canvass the general population, I think you would find a terrific degree of support for restricting the number of fast-food outlets. We know the things that are likely to help, but we don't have the tools to get there."

Public experts around the world recommended there be no fast-food outlets with in a kilometre of schools but New Zealand legislation didn't allow for such provisions.

New Zealand should adopt a similar model to Quebec, where alcohol stores were controlled by the local government, she said.

The central Alcohol Regulatory and Licensing Authority is in charge of granting applications for new alcohol stores and has turned applicants down following outcries by local residents. The Herald reported this week that an application to open a new outlet on the corner of New North Rd and Asquith Ave was turned down after protests, submissions and a petition with 700 signatures.

Sixty years ago, cigarettes were dismissed as an individual's choice and the idea of restricting smoking was "outrageous", Dr Toomath said.

"We now realise that actually it wasn't helping smokers and it wasn't improving out rates of smoking-related disease, and yet we continue to say about food 'Oh well, it's people's choice'. Unfortunately that kind of thinking is contributing to our obesity numbers.

"People used be happy to store food in their homes but we've got into this mindset that you can just walk down the road and eat a meal at any time of the day or night."

When asked about the growing rate of fast-food outlets on Queen St, Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew said the Government had invested more than $60 million a year across a range of initiatives to help promote nutrition and physical activity.

"The Ministry of Health provides a comprehensive series of food and nutrition guidelines around healthy eating that are publicly available."

A McDonald's spokesperson defended the number of outlets it had on the street. "McDonald's restaurants are present in the world's most celebrated cities, and McDonald's has had a restaurant in a heritage-listed building on Queen St for more than two decades.

"While a lot has changed on Queen St over that time, one thing that hasn't is that our customers continue to come to our restaurant."

The spokesman said 750,000 kg of saturated fat was removed from the menu each year when McDonald's changed to canola cooking oil in 2006. It has also removed 30 per cent of sugar from its buns and has offered Sprite Zero instead of Sprite since 2007. Alternative menu choices include grilled chicken burgers and wraps, salads, and apple slices.

"In 2012 our customers purchased (more than) 600,000 salads. We will continue to reduce fat, sugar and sodium in our products ... We also continue to work with government and non-government organisations, and industry on the best approach to tackle key health concerns."

The head of the Californian-based CKE Restaurants, Andy Puzder, defended criticism when he opened Queen St's Carl's Jr store in March, saying: "We're not the food police. I think people have the right to choose whatever they want to eat."

Auckland University students Domasi Tomasi, 19, and Maryanne Nuuausala, 24, were enjoying burgers at McDonald's when the Herald visited this week.

They eat there about three times a week, choosing it over healthier options.

"It's cheaper and easier than the others," Mr Tomasi said.

City worker Sunil was eating a Big Mac but said he only had McDonald's about once every two months as he tried to eat healthily.

Marisa Bidois, chief executive of the Restaurant Association, said some fast-food outlets were introducing healthier options on their menus because of "public pressure".

She had seen a rise in the phenomenon of "healthy takeaways".

"I think the concept that we have of takeaways has changed as well. We're not just talking the fast-food-type traditional takeaways, there have been other businesses popping up that are trying to meet that consumer demand for healthy food."

Desserts more popular

Queen St is fuelling Kiwis love of sweet treats and now has 13 dessert stores - three specialising in donuts.

Of the 10 new fast food outlets opened in the past two years, four were dessert places.

Joining Dunkin' Donuts, the street's second and third donut shops were opened: American chain Southern Maid and Toro Churro, which makes the Spanish version of the treat.

Bubble tea shop Easy Way and Yoghurt Story also opened their doors.

Old favourites include Wendy's Supa Sundaes - an unrelated business to the Wendy's hamburger chain - ice-cream parlours Giapo, New Zealand Natural and Gateau House, as well as The Sweetest Little Chocolate Shop and cookie place Mrs Higgins.

There are also two Starbucks Coffee outlets - a chain known for the large dollop of cream it puts on top of super-sized drinks.

Southern Maid worker Rachel Anderson, 25, said her busiest time of day was between 8am and 9am, when city workers buy coffee and a donut for breakfast, with the cookies and cream flavour selling out each day.

There are also a big crowds coming after work, for dessert, and after watching a movie across the road at Event Cinemas. The store was also popular among American tourists.

Anderson says she can't resist eating a donut a day herself.

For the past three months, international student Tony Liu, 23, has visited the store twice a day each Tuesday and Thursday-when he is the city to attend polytechnic - for a
cappuccino and a chocolate donut.

"We don't have them in China, so I tried my first one three months ago."

Marisa Bidois, chief executive of the Restaurant Association said she had noticed a slight increase in dessert stores but Kiwis have long had a love of sweet things, she said.

"Getting an ice-cream is quite a Kiwi thing, on your road trips, you stop and get an ice-cream, during the hot summers."

She said the rise in donut places was interesting as restaurateurs had in the past tried to open donut places in the past but the public hadn't been as responsive.

"That's definitely an American thing, donuts are definitely part of the culture."

Takeaway Alley

42 fast food outlets on Queen St
30% increase in two years
3 McDonald's, 3 Burger Kings, 4 Subways, 2 Starbucks
13 dessert places and 6 kebab shops

- NZ Herald

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