Twelve Questions: Angie Siew

Angie Siew and her chef husband Kun have for the past 22 years run the popular Sri Pinang restaurant on Auckland's Karangahape Rd. She says friends warned her against setting up shop on the infamous strip.

Angie Siew says K' Rd has changed a lot in 22 years. Photo / Sarah Ivey
Angie Siew says K' Rd has changed a lot in 22 years. Photo / Sarah Ivey

1. You've been looking out your front window on to Karangahape Rd for 22 years now - you must have seen a lot in that time.

Where I come from in Penang there were a lot of bars and restaurants so I had seen a lot of drunks and drugs and things but actually here it was scarier. The people are so much bigger - and louder!

2. Did you have to be tough to survive those first few years?

I learnt to be tough - actually I was quite shy when I started. The worst thing was people would come in here and steal all our cutlery. Another time a woman stole the money from the till. My waitress chased her down the road and there was a punch up on the footpath. Two days later the woman was released from the police and she wanted my staff. She came here and said she was going to get my waitress. She was so frightened. But that's the worst thing that has happened.

3. Have you got to know the locals?

Oh yes, people are very friendly and everyone knows each other around here. Some of the glue-sniffers are the same as were here on day one. We had hookers too in Penang but it was the guys dressed as ladies I was surprised by. In Thailand they are very beautiful but here it was like wah! K' Rd has changed a lot. The council put in lighting and seats and now it is safe. If anything happens the bouncers all come running.

4. Why did you and Kun choose this area?

The landlord was very good to us and there had been an old Chinese restaurant here. We thought it would be OK. And after a few months we were paying our costs so we thought yes, we could do this.

5. You must be the last restaurant in Auckland to charge $1 corkage per person - couldn't you make more money if you put prices up?

Well I think one dollar is OK - all I have to do is clean the glass! And for us we keep prices down so more people eat and the food is fresher.

6. So the recession hasn't hurt you?

Actually the recession is good for us. More people come and our regulars of course. Some people come every week, or two or three times a week. Our customers are lovely people.

7. How did you end up in New Zealand?

I came to visit my cousin who was studying here and I met Kun at Sydney airport. Neither of us realised we needed a visa and we had to sit there for six or seven hours waiting for our visa. We got talking and when we came to Auckland, we would talk again sometimes. There were not very many Malaysians here. Then I was going to go home and he said 'why don't you stay' and then later we got married.

8. Did you always think you'd run a restaurant?

Oh no. My mother can't believe it actually. My father is a mechanic - he still has his mechanic shop and he's 81. My mother and aunties did the cooking at home but she would send me out to the stalls or restaurants to get extra dishes if there wasn't enough. You never knew how many people would come for dinner. My mother wouldn't let me help - she said I made too much mess in the kitchen. I was a nurse in Malaysia.

9. Your children have grown up in New Zealand - how is life different for them?

They are brought up now with a lot of freedom and choice. Lots of opportunity. In Asian culture, once you decide on a job in high school that is it and there is no money to pay for study or anything. Here you can change your mind and the government supports people who want to learn. My daughter is studying to be a dietician at Otago.

10. Does she say curries and roti aren't healthy?

Oh no. She loves them. I do an overnight courier to her once a week with roti.

11. Sunday's your only day off. What do you do?

Not much. By the time you do some housework, some shopping, take the kids to Yum Cha then the day is over. I haven't been to Waiheke Island cause on one day off from work you just want to stay home.

12. Do you get a lot of celebrities and politicians in here?

I don't know who anyone is - I've got no time to watch TV or anything. Sometimes the customers say 'oh that was this person or that person' but I don't know who anyone is. They are all the same to me.

- NZ Herald

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