When he came to Rotorua Indian Star owner Ray Singh knew nothing about the local people.
Now, 18 years later, he says the local people have "adopted" him and supported him, voting him Rotorua's "Icon of Hospitality".
Eat Streat's longest-running restaurant Indian Star has won a number of awards for hospitality, ethnic restaurant and front of house. But now it is Singh's turn to stand in the spotlight.
At the Rotorua Hospitality Awards on Sunday night Singh received the Tohu Wines Icon of Hospitality award.
The restaurant manager, who has a career spanning 25 years, said he was not expecting to ever receive the honour.
"When I first came to Rotorua, there was only one Indian restaurant here, now there are 11.
"It's good luck for us to have such good support from the locals. We have some very loyal customers."
Over the past 18 years, his restaurant has grown and Singh now has multiple branches, including one in Hamilton.
"The fact I run a respectable and successful business gives me the most pride.
"Now this award is pushing me more, it's a huge encouragement."
Singh said he had always had a strong passion for hospitality and a passion for food.
"Among the restaurants here on Eat Streat we have a shared pride and passion, we will continue to work together and continue to grow together.
"I appreciate all the love and support coming to us."
When Rotorua Lakes Council was developing Eat Streat in 2012, Singh said he sat through hundreds of meetings, advocating for it.
"I'm the oldest business owner on Eat Streat, I've seen a lot of other businesses come and go, changing hands.
"My thinking is, it's the quality of food, service, atmosphere and cleanliness that draw people here. If you have those things the client will come to you.
"Eat Streat made us a place people wanted to come to, a place people can recommend to each other where there is a variety of foods and atmospheres to choose from."
Sunday was the one day a year the restaurant closes and before the awards Singh treated 21 of his staff to lunch at Skyline and a go on the luge.
"We always close the restaurant on the day of the hospitality awards, it's a fun night and a chance to celebrate the team."