It’s a testimony to the diverse fare available at the Food City Ethnic Foodcourt that the first two shops you encounter are Roti’s Indian Food (of Pakistani origin) on your left, and the Oasis Drink Bar (of Indonesian origin) on your right.
If there’s one thing Asif Bari (Roti’s Indian Food) and Suharjati Tan (Wawa of Oasis Drink Bar) have in common is that they both love the diversity present in Otahuhu.
“A mixed culture of people live here, and it’s great for business,” says Asif. “This is why we chose the Ethnic Foodcourt. All kinds of food, all kinds of people come here, and we’re doing well.”
“People come here from everywhere, from West, Wellington, North Shore, Penrose,” says Wawa. “We have the same food, same taste as the restaurants, but restaurants are more expensive.”
Asif speaks of David Lange and his family coming to the Foodcourt in times past, as does David Tua and his family now. Wawa speaks of formerAucklandmayor, John Banks dropping by, and one random visit by a team of Fijian soccer players.
Asif proudly explains that people come from all overAucklandfor his butter chicken; while Wawa reminds us that the Oasis Drinks Bar is the only place you can get coffee in Otahuhu.
Otahuhu Recreation and Youth Centre Manager, Christine Mercer’s desk faces the David Lange Memorial in the Centre courtyard. “David Lange was such a people’s Prime Minister, we are so proud to have it here. It’s the perfect thing to have for our community,” she says.
“It’s important because we are people-focussed, and we’re a youth centre as well.” The Memorial itself, created by sculptor, Virginia King was designed following considerable community consultation.
Two hundred community members can be found at the Centre Monday nights for Zumba. “It’s a fabulous way to connect the community,” says Christine.
The New Zealand Breakers will start coaching and playing clinics at the Centre with primary school students next year. “They saw us as a new centre and they wanted to put their mark on us,” Christine says.
The Centre houses a Fitness Centre, a Youth Centre, the Pacific Weight Loss Centre, a stadium and basketball courts. A new swimming pool complex is scheduled for completion in 2014.
“People say (the Centre) is unique and that it stands out. In European society, you know people get on the treadmill and they do their own thing. Here [it’s] so open and welcoming. People exercise and have a little chit chat at the same time.”
“When Mum and Dad first started, (customers) would bring their kids in. And now those kids are coming in with their own kids,” says Aarika Naiker, manager of Ronnie Shoe Stores.
Aarika’s parents first came to Otahuhu fromFijitwenty years ago to scope out the area, and found their shop on the Mainstreet. Since then they have established long-term relationships with their customers to the extent that Aarika and her family now speak Tongan, Samoan and Fijian.
An offshoot of the Fiji-based Parmar’s Footwear outlets, Ronnie’s Shoe Stores’ is a family business run totally by women. Aarika manages the business and is assisted by her sister, Rashi and their mother, Dee.
“We mainly cater for White Sunday and weddings. We have extra big sizes. We have all year round sales because people are going to the islands,” says Aarika of their core business.
If you change you mind about the shoes you bought in Otahuhu “customers can change their shoes at theSuva, Nadi and Ba shops” inFiji.
The store regularly gives back to the community through its charity work. They have previously sponsored the Queen of the Whole Universe beauty pageant, the Otahuhu rugby team and the Fiji Sangam soccer tournament.
Red Rat Otahuhu was the first store opened after the company was founded in 2002. Since then it has become the largest retailer of Nike and Puma lifestyle products inNew Zealand, edging out nine other outlets in the country. Red Rat management uses this to their advantage, using the flagship store as a training platform for staff.
Red Rat believes in sourcing fashion inspiration from different sources, including various cultures, trends, lifestyle and artists to inspire clothing and footwear choices. Amongst well-known international brands sold in-store, Red Rat also stocks its own distinct brand.
Red Rat Otahuhu can be found on the Mainstreet, right next to the PostShop.
What’s yellow and blue and sits on the corner ofGreat South RoadandMason Avenue? Roop ki Rani.
“You can’t miss it,” smiles Minnie the Assistant Manager. “You have to look. You have to come inside.”
“Big Bear started and got a good response. We realised that there are plenty Indians here and they would need Indian items,” says Minnie. So Roop ki Rani was born in 2008, and the old BNZ building was painted yellow and blue.
But the clientele is quickly evolving. “Most non-Indians do come. They’re so happy. They also make puletasi and lavalava from our material. They’re very happy to wear saris.”
Customers have travelled fromHenderson,Wellington,Hamilton, “evenDunedin” to shop in Otahuhu, says Minnie. Schools are holding Bollywood nights and parties are following suit.
The Big Bear subsidiary stocks Indian clothes and accessories, all sourced directly fromIndia, all personally selected by Big Bear Managing Director, Mr Rup. So far, this is the only Roop ki Rani outlet in New Zealand. There are, however, twenty outlets across Fiji.
The Star Hotel Co-Manager, Regina Mune is no stranger to diversity. The Fijian-Cook Islander has seen her share of people walking through the doors of Star Hotel on the corner ofAtkinson AvenueandGreat South Road.
The building itself dates back to the 1860s when it was a major staging point for coach journeys betweenAucklandandWaikato. The two-level boarding house was the original hotel.
“This hotel is an establishment in Otahuhu. The regulars date back 30 odd years,” says Gina. A range of Maori and Pacific Islanders frequent the hotel, she says, but “the first time I saw a Fijian, I was like ‘Yay’!”
“I think the Otahuhu community is a good solid community, especially with the pubs around here. All the managers know each other and we’ve got a good relationship. It’s a good little community.”
Before moving to Star Hotel, Gina worked as bar staff on the night shift at the pub’s previous sister pub further down the road. “If I was somewhere else I think I might be intimidated, but if you work at Otahuhu it makes you grow balls.”