Mike Parkinson and Jack Meertens, co-founders of popular Christchurch fast-casual chain New York Deli, have been in the game for a long time. Before starting their current business, the pair worked with Burger King for 15 years, opening 75 stores across New Zealand and helping to introduce Carl’s Jr to the country.
Since they started out in the industry (Parkinson from a background in engineering, Meertens from a family background of tourism and food), things have changed.
“This industry has become a lot more liberal in thinking,” explained Parkinson. “Trends are more creative, liquor licensing is easier to achieve, food offerings are much more international. The influx of migrants, particularly from Asian countries, has opened our minds to all sorts of new dishes and flavours and customers are more discerning.”
However, changes and trends are not limited to the culinary fare on offer. The physical store is also undergoing a facelift. “Fitouts have gone full circle and are now rustic, natural materials like wood and polished concrete,” said Meertens. “People feel more at home in that environment.” The design of New York Deli, which has three stores in Christchurch, has proven successful – the Bush Inn store won the ADNZ Resene Colour in Design award for 2016, Canterbury/Westland.
The rise of social media has also had an impact on the way that the pair run their business. Facebook and online review sites are now more critical and can instantly tell the world about the good and the bad of a restaurant’s offering. “As a brand, keeping abreast of those messages is critical,” said Parkinson. “Travellers use these sites as their research tools, and a bad comment is not what you need.”
Everyone is a critic now, although that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The ease of access to online review forums has developed alongside a more sophisticated, cosmopolitan consumer base. “Companies needed to step it up and have changed their food offering and quality, which is good for the industry as it keeps operators on their toes in order to meet increasing customer expectations,” said Meertens. “The international food offerings over the last decades have definitely made a big leap forward as well.”
“Probably the biggest success story of a company taking an overseas menu and making it successful in New Zealand is St Pierre’s,” added Parkinson. They added some New Zealand twists to sushi and have been very successful.”
For those looking to start their own QSR or fast casual venture, the pair offer this simple advice:
“Do your research and talk to lots of people in the industry before getting started. The most important work is done before you open the doors.”