This column is about a couple who arrived in New Zealand with just the clothes on their backs as refugees from Bhutan ten years ago; since then they have worked hard, bought a house and now own a business.
The distinctive white and blue building on the corner of St Vincent St and Toi Toi St has been the home of Victory Square Fish & Chips for decades, and over many years it has had a reputation for the high quality of the product they serve, this very grateful Bhutanese couple bought the business in June this year and are putting their stamp on the food offerings.
Mon & Patali Pradhan arrived in September 2010 from a refugee camp in Nepal. They married while living in the camp and had their first child there. The real story is about how they have made the most of every opportunity that has been given to them here and how they are giving back to the community that has supported them.
When they were first resettled in Nelson with help from Red Cross the first thing they had to do was learn English. Patali told me the experience of relocating as refugees was very challenging at the time, “migration was a challenge, not speaking the language, food we knew nothing about and weren’t used to all added to the pressure. I was pregnant at the time so the food was a real challenge for me, now we love kiwi food.”
Mon says “Immigration NZ run the migration centre in Auckland and then Red Cross helped us resettle here and to deal with the many challenges of arriving in a new country with just the clothes we were wearing.”
Mon studied English Language at NMIT to level 4 and was working part time as a cleaner while studying. His first fulltime job was at Sealord where he worked for about two years. “I also worked as a translator at the same time and as a bi-lingual teacher at both Nelson College and at Victory School part time. I still do some mentoring through Red Cross, helping other refugees when they arrive here from Bhutan and Myanmar.”
Mon is very active in the community and even helps refugees get driving licences, “especially with the theory tests when language is a real issue for them.”
After Sealord it was seasonal work in the glasshouses at JS Ewers in Appleby, packing apples at Freshco in Nayland Road and finally he got fulltime work at New World Nelson City through Work & Income, “I worked there for six years, I was one of the first Bhutanese to work at New World starting as grocery assistant and, through hard work, ended up as a second-in-charge manager. While I was there I brought more people from my community to New World and they are still working there.
When the couple arrived Patali studied English language part time for three years while looking after the children but also worked in a number of jobs, housekeeping at Monaco resort, cleaning at Central School with Spotlight, she was a bi-lingual tutor at Victory Primary School for 10 hours a week, seasonal work apple packing and at Sealord and then at New World as a deli assistant.
While at New World the couple decided “we wanted to try something of our own so bought the Victory Square Fish & Chips takeaway business. One of the main reasons we bought this business was to bring our food as well, many people from many places around the world live in this community and seem to be enjoying the food we make,” says Mon
The couple told me they are really proud they managed to keep all of the staff, “looking after people is so important and many of them have been working here for six or seven years, they have been teaching us a lot about cooking takeaways. The previous owners, Malia & Ekkerardt, are still keeping an eye on us, they help us a lot.”
As well as having all the familiar food we expect from a Kiwi fish & chip takeaway business the couple have started adding flavours from their country of birth using herbs and spices like fresh coriander, sesame seeds, mustard seed, curry powder and chili (mild for Kiwi palate but we can make it hot says Mon).
“Also the way we make and cook the food is important for us, it’s not just flavourings and ingredients. Our dumplings are hand-made, steamed and served with homemade sauces, we can fry them to be nice and crispy if that’s what the customer wants.”
“We make most of our own products, some using recipes from the previous owners and others our own recipes. Everything from fish cakes, paua fritter, mussel fritters, beef patties, chicken patties to our own chicken and vegetable dumplings, samosas, wontons, grilled lamb gyros and even their own house made hot dog “with our own secret recipe”.
Through sheer hard work and saving every cent they could this couple have bought a house and a business in just ten years. Patali told me they want to work very hard for their children and other family members. “Mon’s parents came to Nelson as refugees too and my parents were resettled in in the US as refugees.”
Patali and Mon have two sons, Shayal is 14, was born in Nepal and goes to Nelson College while Simon who is 10 and born in New Zealand goes to Victory School. We don’t want our children to be like us, we want them to have a better education, a better life, that’s why we work hard.”
Mon says “the community is very helpful, very supportive and seem to like the diversity we bring to the takeaway business. And we feel very proud to be Kiwis”, they became citizens in 2016.
Not only are they hard working, but they also give a lot back to the migrant community and do it all with a smile on their faces, having arrived in New Zealand with very little this delightful couple are now living a life they could only have dreamed of in Bhutan. Refugees like Mon and Patali prove that with the right attitude you can achieve anything.