Newsletter Articles March: Character of K’ Road – Angie Siew, Co-Owner of Sri Pinang

Character of K' Road

Angie Siew

Co-owner of Sri Pinang

Back in 1991 Angie Siew and husband HookKun decided to open a restaurant in K' Road. They gave themselves three years to make a go of it – Sri Pinang has now been open 27 years and there is no sign of that changing any time yet! As Angie says, “if you don't give something a try, you will live to regret it." Here is Angie's story on coming to K' Road.

Why did you decide to set up Sri Pinang?

My husband came to New Zealand from Malaysia as a chef. Once his contract ended, we wanted to try and run our own restaurant (I had been working front of house in the same restaurant). We decided to give ourselves three years to see if we could make it work. Sometimes you have to give things a try or you will regret it. So we decided to try our best and if it wasn't successful after three years, then we would have no regrets.

Why choose K' Road?

We wanted to open a Malaysian restaurant around the CBD in a place that was already set up as a restaurant because that made it easier to get started with licences and toilets etc.

A friend told us about this space; it was a Vietnamese restaurant at that time. So we came and looked on a Thursday night. It was busy on the street because of the Thursday night market and I was attracted to the multi-cultural side of K' Road so we thought 'Why not give it a try?' even though some friends were saying it was a pretty dodgy area.

Another attraction of K' Road were two good Indo-Pacific grocery stores that sold all the spices and veges we needed which made it easy to get the right fresh ingredients. It was difficult then but now you can get those ingredients in any number of places. The increase in immigrants has made a huge difference to the variety and cost of the ingredients we use these days.

In the nineties K' Road was much more interesting than a lot of other streets in Auckland where supermarkets shut early and it was all a bit boring. K' Road has always had its own character.

What was it like starting a new restaurant along K' Road?

When we started I felt quite nervous in the front of the restaurant. If I had only a couple of customers I'd lock the front door because sometimes street people came in who were drunk and noisy and not wanting to have dinner. They'd grab cutlery or pinch lollies (I quickly stopped having a lolly jar).

However after a little while, as more customers started turning up, I became more comfortable.

I think I was too tense and scared at the start but once I started to talk with respect to the street people, they started treated me better. I think it also became easier because I didn't feel so alone out the front because there were more customers in here.

These days I know a lot of the names of people on the streets, especially the ones who have been on K' Road a long time. We say 'hi' to each other and show respect to each other.

And you are still here 27 years later?

Yes, and with no regrets! I love running the front of the restaurant and I with a chef husband I always have nice food that I don't have to cook for myself. So I'm happy.

Our three children have also all been involved in one way or another with the business. We believe it is important that they understood where our money comes from and that you need to work hard for it.

How have your customers changed over that time?

Our main customers initially were locals, students, and people from Malaysia.

Over the years we've seen many customers continue to come back. Many customers started coming as couples courting, then as time passes I see the same people coming with their children and even their grandkids. So all ages and types of people come in.

How often do you change the menu?

We don't! This is the same menu from when we started in 1991, except for a couple of dishes we've taken off because they were not popular. The only other thing that has changed is the prices! We have that consistency because we've had the same chefs from day one – my husband and our other chef who are real buddies.

Malaysian food is a fusion of Indian and Chinese. The most popular dishes are Beef Rendang and Panang Chicken Curry and our roti. The roti is very special because it is hand made and made in house. My favourite is the chicken curry and roti.

What brought you to New Zealand in the first place?

I was a hospital nurse in Malaysia and came to New Zealand on a three month visa to have a holiday and see my cousin. I met HookKun on route to New Zealand in Sydney where we both got stranded and hung out together at the airport chatting. Then I met him again a few weeks later at my cousin's friend's place. That was it. I never went back to Malaysia or nursing but stayed and got a job waitressing in the same restaurant as him and then we thought why not try and run our own place.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I like running the restaurant and seeing a lot of different people and talking to them and becoming more knowledgeable. I like how happy customers usually are. In hospitals you are usually dealing with sick people who are often sad. Here we have lots of laughs and people are here to enjoy themselves and eat good food.

What keeps you here?

I still enjoy my job and so does my husband although it can be tiring. So, we will continue running Sri Panang as long as we are capable of doing it.

As for K' Road, I really like the community and how the KBA keeps everyone in touch with what is going on. I look around the street and there are so many different shops and people from different countries. I feel comfortable here.

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