Tucked down a discrete alley at the backend of Taipei’s fashionable Shida district lies Kiwi Gourmet Burgers, run by New Zealander Antoni Barry. Ron Hanson reports from Taiwan.
Started by Barry in 2008, Kiwi Gourmet Burgers has become a staple of the Western food offerings in Taipei. Whether Barry’s burgers represent comfort food or an adventurous culinary divergence, depending on the customer, there’s something unique about Kiwi Gourmet Burgers that sets one at ease.
Helmed by its garrulous owner, Kiwi Gourmet Burgers exudes warmth and welcomeness. Indeed Barry, who has worked with the same kitchen manager for 14 years, says he envisions the restaurant as a kind of “clubhouse”.
So how has Barry weathered the ups and downs of running a small restaurant? “Part of it’s your personality,” he says. “If you don’t have the right personality for it, you’re not going to last. I worked at a bank for two years and I was probably the worst-ever person to work at a bank. But this job suits my personality.”
Originally from Poverty Bay, Barry moved to Taiwan in 1995. It was a completely different era for the expat community. “Those were the old days,” he says. “Before me, everyone was eccentric, wild, and crazy. Everyone was either traveling here for three months, or they were an alcoholic writer. And I sort of got here for the tail end of that. Then something changed post-2000. Taiwan became first-world.”
At Kiwi Gourmet Burgers, one can order a Tuatara beer or lamb burger with feta. Naturally, his burgers use New Zealand beef. On the wall hangs a painting of Gisborne’s Wainui Beach that reminds Barry of home. He says his customers are a mix of both foreigners and locals. Many Taiwanese who have lived previously in New Zealand patronise the restaurant.
But what is a kiwi gourmet burger? “It’s about experimentation,” Barry says. “You play with the form and you steal ideas because Kiwis travel, so we’re always stealing.”
Indeed, a quick glance at the menu reveals some unusual offerings. Among the burgers are the Mango Jalapeno, Avocado, Umami, and the Bali Dreams (satay). “I stopped one of the burgers on the menu,” Barry says, “the Feta Tzatziki. It wasn’t selling very well, so I cut it off. But for one of my customers, that’s his go-to burger, so I kept it on the computer. But only he knows about it. It is literally the secret burger.”
Barry says that Taiwan is a great place to start a business with very little red tape. He says that Taiwan encourages entrepreneurship and that many Taiwanese start a small business within their lifetime.
But running Kiwi Gourmet Burgers has had its challenges. Earlier, Barry says he and other small business owners were pressured by a construction company to move away from Shida amidst efforts to gentrify the area. Barry was pressured for two years but stood his ground. In recent times, he says, Covid has badly impacted his industry though he believes it is beginning to bounce back.
“It’s going to take time,” Barry says. “Right now, it’s all about survival. You’ve just got to hold on until you get through. But hard times teach you a lot. It’s either that or close shop, so you make your choice and see the positives.
“My goal is to eventually live between Taiwan and New Zealand and just let life take care of itself. But you know the joke,” Barry chuckles. “How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans. But after running Kiwi Gourmet Burgers for 14 years, I’ve still got the passion.”
- Asia Media Centre