Undertaking studies at EIT motivated one woman so much that she is now running one successful business and already planning the next.
Hehenga Tupouniua was studying for a Bachelor of Social Work at the Tairāwhiti campus. Coming from Tonga, she found herself helping a lot of people with their adjustment to life in New Zealand. This led her to think that maybe she should try to become a social worker.
But her business background kept opening her eyes to the opportunities around her. Halfway through this year, with the support of her husband Sione who had always wanted a business, she decided to create Gisborne’s first Pacific Islands-style takeaway restaurant. She called it Friendly Islands Takeaways.
Despite Gisborne’s relatively small pacific islands population, the Grey Street outlet scored a direct hit.
One month on and Hehenga is already employing eight people, five of them full time.
“When we opened on Monday, October 29, I had my husband, my sister Kefilini, my father-in-law Kafa and my aunty Lavinia to help me. We were flat out the whole day – it was unbelievable. The next day I hired the rest of our team.”
The business has been busy ever since, with queues regularly forming around lunchtime and throughout the day. And it’s not just the Pacifica people who like the food on offer.
“It’s good to see people from other cultures coming in,” she says.
Many European people had become familiar with these dishes during holidays in places like Tonga, Samoa and Fiji.
Islands-style dishes like green bananas, cassava and lamb in taro leaves are proving very popular and Friendly Islands’ ota ika (marinated fish salad) and crushed pineapple, mango and coconut smoothie are the best in town.
“Some people may think what we sell is not healthy but there are vegetables in every dish, fresh, not frozen,” she says.
One day Hehenga plans to go back to EIT to finish her degree but not until she has finished with the business bug.
”Going to EIT really built my confidence to open up and speak with people. In the past I would not share my opinion because I was afraid of looking stupid.”