Wayne’s world changes

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Queenstown’s longest-serving restaurateur – and one of the resort’s most successful – has sold out after almost 30 years in business. 

Wayne Chui was due to sell Mandarin Chinese Restaurant to his eldest daughter Melanie and partners, who were going to rebrand, refit and reopen the Lower Beach Street business in July. 

Instead Chui, 69, received an offer “which was very much to my satisfaction” from a Chinese investor. 

The investor – who’s employed managers from Christchurch – had been impressed with the business when visiting during Chinese New Year in January. 

Chui says losing contact with his business and customers will be very hard for him and wife Amy – they would have retained a shareholding had daughter Melanie taken over. 

“I’ve been very fortunate, and I’m very proud of it, that from day one we’ve made profit,” Chui says. 

“Even through SARS, the financial crisis, sharemarket crisis, birdflu, everything – we bounced back well.” 

Chui puts his success down to three factors. 

“First, we had to be hardworking and save up for the unpredictable. 

“Secondly, always look after your customers, don’t think they’re a tourist and you can rip them off. Even if they don’t come back, they’ll recommend it to their friends.” 

Chui’s third success factor was to stay one step ahead of the competition. 

“I’ve gone overseas quite frequently to learn new dishes, new techniques, how to save costs and how to train the staff to adjust.” 

Conversely, Chui says, restaurateurs often fail because of insufficient research and maybe thinking there’s easy money to be made because they’ve come in summer when everyone’s busy. 

Chui – born in China and educated in Hong Kong – says he saw the potential for a good Asian restaurant when opening Mandarin in August 1982. 

“There was only one Chinese restaurant, at the Travelodge hotel, now Crowne Plaza, but the cooking was by Australians and not real Chinese food. 

“We came at the right time – the town was just starting to get developed.” 

With so many restaurants now, profit margins have shrunk, he says. 

Chui criticises Queenstown Lakes District Council for continuing to jack up commercial rates. 

“The business community cannot accept that forever – the council has got to look at cutting costs.” 

Chui will stay in town but probably escape to warmer climes during winter. 

“I’ve been working all my life so I can’t see myself suddenly dropping off to nothing.” 

Chui part-owns a company exporting racehorses and also, unusually for a restaurateur, has owned Mandarin’s freehold title since the late 1980s. 

He says he’ll retain the freehold: “This is my pension.”