Tombstones and Takeaway
Chinese migrant Jackie Or saw a lively business opportunity in creating Auckland's first private cemetery
PHOTO: BRUCE JACKSON/SOUTHERN STUDIOS
A migrant entrepreneur shows he can turn his hand to anything
Jackie Or is a success story in New Zealand's food industry. At shopping centres around the country, his Chinese food chains sit alongside McDonald's and KFC.
Magic Wok, Crazy Stirfry and Crazy Noodlebar are names synonymous with high quality fast food for thousands of New Zealand shoppers.
Or has a knack for finding a niche market at the right time (something he has proved a second time around with his latest venture - Auckland's first privately owned cemetery).
Or moved to New Zealand in 1982 - his knowledge of the country limited to the fact that it had lots of sheep. However, as a chef, he also believed there would be plenty of work opportunities. He spent the first two and a half years in his adopted country working at the New Orient Restaurant in downtown Auckland.
In 1985 he started out on his own. "Most of the Chinese food here was being adapted to Kiwi tastes, but I wanted to have something really Chinese, really authentic, with meals such as chicken feet, pig's trotters and salted fish."
Another restaurant later, he decided the restaurant business was "too hard and the hours too long", so opened up a takeaway in a shopping centre. "The concept was good quality food, freshly cooked in front of the customer. At that time it was a new concept and we found it was really accepted by the Kiwis."
Today he has nearly 20 shops from Auckland to Dunedin, in the south of the South Island. He employs about 40 staff, most of them ethnic Chinese. "I never dreamed it would become this big," he says.
While he believes there are still such opportunities for new business migrants, he admits it would be a lot harder for them today. "When I first stared 15 years ago, there were only a few fast food outlets. Today there are many - McDonald's, Burger Kings, KFCs and Wendys. Auckland is a very competitive market now. We have got more fast food and restaurant outlets per person than Sydney and Melbourne."
It may seem like a clich�, but it is true that many Chinese migrants - and Asians in general - set up restaurants. Or estimates there could be as many as 600 Asian food outlets in the city. "I guess the capital involved in such a venture is not that big and because some Chinese don't speak English well, which is a disadvantage for them, starting up something like a Chinese restaurant is a lot easier."
But he says one problem was that many people did not do the right research. "They come here, set up a restaurant and do not compare the turnover of their neighbour.
So they are spending NZ$400,000-$500,000 (US$164,400-$205,500) without an estimate of turnover. Many people do that and because of that, many restaurants fail."
Rental costs, which he says are higher than a lot of people think, and a shortage of skilled Chinese chefs and waiting staff are other problems to be considered.
While Or has seen much growth in the Chinese business community since he first became a part of it, he says business is not his prime reason for coming to New Zealand. "People do not come here for business reasons. They come here more for the lifestyle and their children's education. Here there is lots of space and there is fresh air and the weather is pretty good.
"Because we only have a very small population, it is very hard to make a business very profitable. But saying that, I am one of the lucky ones and there are opportunities for enterprising people." And his latest venture shows just how enterprising he is. About six years ago, a staff member was telling Or how she wanted to bury her father next to another Chinese person, but was unable to find anywhere to do that.
After getting together four partners, including the head of one of New Zealand's top clothing chains, and finding the right land - which took two years - the result is a very special cemetery. "The Oakfield Memorial Park is set on 39 acres and is the first private cemetery in Auckland. While it available to the whole community, it is also the only cemetery with a Chinese section."
What also makes the cemetery special is that it is has been designed with the right feng shui - it features a landscaped garden, with two lakes and sea views. "We have been marketing the cemetery for about 15 months now and have already sold about 150 plots, the most expensive one so far being NZ$128,000, which is a plot for an extended family"