}

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Unfamiliar is familiar

When I arrived in New Zealand two decades ago, there were plenty of things to get used to, including lots of products and brand names I’d never heard of. Over the years, a lot of familiar American brands have entered the NZ market, sometimes locally-owned/licensed. Today I heard about an unfamiliar brand that, it turns out, is very familiar to me.

Nigel had a meeting in West Auckland this morning and he rang me while he was on his way. “What’s Texas Chicken?” he asked. I’d never heard of it, so, of course, I turned to the Internet.

It turns out that Texas Chicken is the brand name for Church’s Chicken outside the Americas. I presume that’s because the chain was begun in Texas in 1952, and also to avoid people in non-Christian countries assuming it had something to with Christianity (there was a controversy about that in Malaysia in 2015).

Their first New Zealand outlet opened at Westfield Mall in Manukau back in July of last year, and they now have a freestanding location in Henderson, where Nigel saw it. The company plans on having 20 locations in New Zealand within 10 years.

I liked Church’s Chicken when I lived in the USA, but it was my second favourite to Chicago chain Brown’s Chicken, which I loved (and their deep friend mushrooms were awesome). However, there were a lot more Church’s locations, and all over the place. I ranked Kentucky Fried Chicken, as KFC was then called, third, and Popeye’s not at all (I don’t like hot and spicy foods).

KFC reminded me of church dinners—the chicken, the coleslaw, the mashed potato and gravy, even the dinner roll—were all like what I’d had at church dinners. That made it familiar, and pleasant enough in that sense, but I prefer my fried chicken to be crunchy, not soggy. So, I much preferred Brown’s or Church’s to KFC.

KFC has been in New Zealand sine 1971, and now operates around a hundred units. The re-design of KFC stores in New Zealand was later adopted as the template used around the world. KFC is a unit of New Zealand’s leading fast-food company, Restaurant Brands, which also owns the New Zealand rights to Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and Carls Jr. They also own the New Zealand rights to Taco Bell, which, like Pizza Hut and KFC is a brand owned by the USA’s Yum Brands, and the company hinted last year that they may begin opening Taco Bell units.

If those weren’t enough American brands, we also have McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s Hamburgers, Subway, and Domino’s.

Beyond that, we also have chains from other countries: Oporto, an Australian-founded chain of Portuguese-style chicken places, and Nando’s, an international chain that originated in South Africa, with a Mozambican/Portuguese theme (the chain is particularly popular in the UK, apparently), and Esquires Coffee, which was founded in Vancouver, but is operated in Australia and New Zealand by Retail Food Group. There’s also The Coffee Club, an Australian chain of coffee cafés, which opened its first NZ franchise in Wellington in 2005—its first outside Australia. Pita Pit, which was founded in Canada in 1995, is also in New Zealand.

There are homegrown New Zealand chains, too, of course: Hell Pizza, Burger Fuel, Mexicali Fresh, Sal’s Pizza, and Columbus Coffee are all New Zealand-born chains, some of which are expanding overseas.

Columbus Coffee began in Auckland’s CBD in 1994, and has since grown throughout the country. More than just a coffee house, they’re actually full cafés, offering really nice cabinet and freshly made food, plus muffins and cakes and other treats. And, of course, they serve good coffee. They operate the cafés in many (all?) Mitre 10 Mega stores, a New Zealand-owned chain of hardware and home centres. They are by far my favourite of the chain coffee places, though independent neighbourhood cafes often have outstanding coffee (one near our house does).

Burger Fuel is a New Zealand gourmet burger chain that’s expanding internationally. The first location opened in Ponsonby Road in Auckland in 1995, and their second opened in Takapuna in 1998; one of those two was the first we went to, though I can’t remember which it was.

Hell Pizza was founded in Wellington in 1996, and is now also global. Over the years, its edgy marketing campaigns have gotten it into trouble, some of which I’ve blogged about.

Mexicali Fresh is owned by Mariposa Restaurant Holdings, a NZ company that last year bought New Zealand’s Burger Wisconsin chain, which was the first gourmet burger chain in the country.

I’ve written about Sal’s Pizza, and they remain a favourite. They are the only authentic American-style pizzas I’ve had in New Zealand, however, it really is “New York style”, while I’m used to (and prefer) Chicago style, which has a crispier crust (thick crust/stuffed/pan pizzas are another thing altogether, and not a personal favourite).

I’m sure I’m forgetting something or other, but I’m not necessarily a chain-food person, anyway, and often prefer independent cafés, restaurants, and pub cafés. Still, I do like them from time to time, and I’m looking forward to trying Texas Chicken at some point. But, like Carl’s Jr., I may end up waiting until there’s a closer location.

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