The change-maker

Anton Matthews – fish and chip shop owner; emerging business leader; change-maker.

Through his commitment and dedication to revitalising and normalising te reo Māori, Fush restaurant owner Anton Matthews (Te Rarawa, Te Aupōuri) is fast making a name for himself – and creating a unique point of difference for his business – in Ōtautahi Christchurch.

The role of manaakitanga (generosity and hospitality) Anton’s love of hospitality grew from his time working at the flagship Lone Star on Manchester Street. As well as gaining experience in front-of-house and customer service, and working his way up to bar manager, Anton was also provided an invaluable internship on how to run a restaurant.
While working fulltime, Anton also completed a degree in Te Reo Māori and Māori Indigenous Studies, and a Graduate Diploma in Teaching at the University of Canterbury Te Whare Wānanga o Waitaha, and graduated from top Māori language academy Te Panekiretanga o Te Reo Māori.

After trying his hand at teaching, Anton was drawn back to the world of hospitality, purchasing Joe’s Garage in Sumner with his wife Jess Matthews shortly after the Canterbury earthquakes. The couple took ownership of the new business at the same
time as they welcomed a new-born daughter.

A key part of their success in turning this business around was Anton’s “dream team” – friends and whānau who believed in Anton’s vision. In turn, Anton & Jess were able to provide jobs, as well as valuable work experience, for their younger siblings.

“We were always brought up to be hospitable – it’s an incredibly important part of Māoritanga (culture). Your ability to look after other people is considered a measure of your mana. In Aotearoa, there is a tendency to look down on hospitality staff, whereas from a Māori point of view, the people who keep the hui going by feeding and serving the masses should be put on a pedestal. I wanted to integrate the tikanga (custom) of manaakitanga into our business.”

The writing on the wall

In 2015, Anton and Jess opened Joe’s Garage Wigram – the first business in the new property development – which soon became a foundation for a thriving community.

“We saw the writing on the wall that Wigram would very quickly become a key suburban hub. The new residents appreciated that we put some skin in the game and gravitated towards a business that was part of their collective new beginning.” Joe’s Garage Wigram remains the busiest Joe’s franchise in the city.

However, Anton wanted a new challenge – to set his own brand up from scratch, coincidentally at the same time as their second tamaiti (child) was born. Initially, Fush was all about setting a new standard in the New Zealand staple, by using the freshest, most sustainable local ingredients, and promoting social procurement.

“We take our cultural responsibility around kaitakitanga (guardianship and sustainability) very seriously and are committed to providing meaningful mahi (work) for some of Aotearoa’s most vulnerable people while maintaining a financially sustainable business.”

However, Anton soon realised that the gourmet fish and chip shop could also be a vehicle for him to make a difference to how his young family saw the world.

“I only speak te reo at home to my tamariki (children), so I was surprised when my three-year-old reverted to speaking English when we were at the restaurant or out in public. This showed me how important it was to make Fush like our home environment – to normalise te reo as part of our everyday life, regardless of where we are. So I started weaving te reo through the Fush brand and promoting and encouraging te reo in our workplace through our menus, t-shirts, music, signage and conversation.

“I want to shape an environment where to be able to speak te reo and understand tikanga and manaakitanga is of immense value. I also want to make our reo accessible, where people feel comfortable asking how to pronounce and use kupu Māori correctly.”

Anton credits his primary education at Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Whānau Tahi, one of Christchurch’s two full-immersion Māori language schools, coupled with his secondary education at Christchurch Boys’ High School for his ability to “walk comfortably in both worlds”
Fush is now one of the few restaurants in Aotearoa to have a bilingual te reo Māori and English menu, with every item listed in both languages, as well as popular colloquialisms.

Groundswell of support

The response to his integration of te reo into Fush operations was so positive, Anton decided to hold a beginners’ te reo lesson at the restaurant, free of charge. The aim was to attract “maybe 20 people”, however when over 3,000 people indicated their interest on Facebook, the venue was hastily changed to the auditorium at Christchurch Boys’ High. Over 800 people attended on the first night.

“The huge level of interest from people of all ages, ethnicities and walks of life showed that people genuinely wanted to learn more about our culture. But it also put the responsibility back on me to do whatever I could do build on this interest and make te reo accessible for all people, not just Māori.

“Te reo Māori is on the cusp of survival. Since the Native Schools Act was passed in 1867, te reo Māori has taken a beating. Although the Act never outlawed speaking te reo Māori, it made English the language of education and so anyone speaking the language was punished. So, by the time the Māori Language Act of 1987 came around, te reo Māori was like a patient in ICU. Since then, the language has come in and out of consciousness and it feels like, at last, the language has left the hospital and is back in the community like a long lost friend, saying kia ora to everyone. I believe we need to be sharing our language and culture, and engaging as many people as we can to ensure it is not only surviving but thriving for future generations.” Anton has now taught thousands of people basic te reo Māori around Aotearoa. He also has plans to scale Fush and open more eateries in 2020.
An emerging leader

At the 2019 Westpac Champion Business Awards, Anton was recognised with the Emerging Business Leader Award for his dedication to revitalising and normalising te reo in Ōtautahi.

“This award means a lot to me, as it shows that we’re making a change and starting a kōrero (conversation) about normalising te reo, not just in the Māori community, but in the wider business world. We’re also making the rest of Aotearoa sit up and take notice.

“From a business point of view, Fush demonstrates how valuable te reo is as a unique point of difference and an opportunity that other businesses can leverage very easily. We have an opportunity in Ōtautahi to make a change and lead the country in this movement, one kōrero at a time.”