When Vetearii and Gary first met working in the travel industry, the duo instantly bonded over their mutual obsession with pro-wrestling and their shared experiences as 80s kids raised on old-school hip-hop and cult American movies.
The idea of opening a smashed burger joint arrived spontaneously during a hang-out where Vetearii and Gary were reminiscing on old memories, while cooking up smashed burgers. They quickly came to the realisation of how quiet of a presence smashed burgers had in Auckland. What started as a simple observation quickly turned into a full-fledged business plan, with the pair deciding on the spot to start up their own burger joint.
The following day Vetearii and Gary jumped straight into work. They quickly decided that they wanted to serve a simple menu, focusing on just two smashed burger items - a single and a double, and classic sides like fries and soda.
Smashed burgers, a unique style of burger popular in the United States, features thin burger patties that are crispy on the edges, but still juicy and flavourful in the middle.
"We draw our inspiration from simplicity. A burger shouldn't be complicated," added Vetearii.
However, when New Zealand was first plunged into lockdown, the pandemic halted their search to hunt down the perfect location. Instead, the duo decided to focus on nailing the flavour of their burgers and finding quality suppliers. After being introduced to Ty from Pioneer Pies in Albany, they were offered access to the pie shop to trial their smashed burgers.
The response to Gary and Vetearii's pop-up burger joint was overwhelmingly positive.
"The pie shop was packed every night and we started to grow quite a following in the area."
In August 2021, the pair received the keys to 1/492 Queen Street in Auckland CBD. They renovated the site for ten days, working tirelessly to get the restaurant ready for the grand opening of Fat Puku's Smashed Burgers.
Unfortunately, Auckland was plunged into yet another lockdown and they were unable to open until Mid-October. But to their surprise, people from all over Auckland turned up to Fat Puku's as soon as they opened their doors.
"We were so touched that our customers from Albany were willing to make the journey to the city to support us."
Now, Fat Puku's Smashed Burgers boasts eight team members and the accomplishment of making to the list of Iconic Auckland Eats' Top 100 list.
For Gary and Vetearii, the team culture at Fat Puku's is of utmost importance. At the start of every month they take their staff out for breakfast or a night-out to thank them for all of their hard work.
"Focus on your staff. Support them and lead by example. A strong team will always look after your customers."
Their top tip for anyone interested in beginning their hospitality journey is keeping things simple.
"A simple menu means you can focus on quality and execution. Plus, customers love not having to read through 30 different menu items."
In the future the duo hope to open more locations around Auckland. They are also keen to explore different parts of the hospitality industry and other food offerings.