Fish and Chips With a Serving of Te Reo /
‘My aspiration is to have mainstream New Zealanders embracing and using words like “whānau” and “hui” and answering the phone with “kia ora”.’
Anton Matthews and his passion for te reo
FUSH, a whānau fish and chip shop in Wigram, is leading the way on normalising te reo Māori in the community. We meet with co-owner Anton Matthews to learn about his passion for sharing te reo through the medium of kai and manaakitanga.
IN MAY 2018, AS WORD BEGAN TO SPREAD THAT
F USH planned to host free te reo Māori classes, Anton and Jess Matthews, along with Anton’s sister Māia Matthews, quickly realised that the small-scale language event they’d envisaged was about to morph into something much bigger.
More than 3,000 people clicked that they were interested in attending in the days leading up to the inaugural class at the couple’s Wigram restaurant. To accommodate unprecedented demand, the venue was instead switched to a school auditorium. More than 800 people attended the hugely popular classes, presented by Anton, every week they were held. ‘We were blown away by the response,’ Anton recalls. ‘We thought we’d get about a dozen people coming to the restaurant and that we’d fill a couple of tables but it turned into something so much bigger.’
Anton has long been passionate about normalising te reo Māori, not just at home with whānau but in the workplace too. He recalls how one day at F USH he heard his young daughter, Te Ariā Aroha, say something to him in English even though the only language they spoke together at home was te reo Māori. He was concerned that she was starting to feel uncomfortable about speaking te reo in a context where everyone else was conversing in English. It sparked the decision to step up on te reo Māori in the family business.
‘We introduced it at F USH to begin with, by translating the menu so it would be bilingual with one side in English and the other in Māori. That caught people’s eyes and led to a whole bunch of other things like the te reo classes, but also the menu notes teaching people how to order food and drinks in Māori.’
Te Ariā Aroha is now eight years old and her brother Mana Ariki is six and, at the time of writing, Anton and Jess were expecting their third child. Sharing hospitality and te reo is a big focus for the whole whānau, with Te Ariā Aroha and Mana Ariki joining their parents on annual road trips around the South Island with the Little Fush Waka (food truck) in tow.
‘In 2019 we did 10 towns: we stopped at school halls and auditoriums and had hundreds and hundreds of people turning up for classes to learn basic te reo. It was good for our kids to see their mum and dad investing time and effort to do that; they know how important it is to us and that te reo Māori is not just the language we use to communicate at home. It is far more than that; it was a really cool experience.’
Over recent months, Anton, Jess and Māia (also a business partner in F USH) have been working to develop another smart way to bring te reo Māori into people’s lives. Coinciding with Māori Language Week in 2020, FUSH released te reo Māori branded tomato sauce in partnership with Barker’s of Geraldine. If the goal is to normalise the language, then, as Anton says, it has to be everywhere – not just on the marae but right there on the tomato sauce bottle too. The sauce is a low-salt, low-fat Barker’s recipe, made with New Zealand tomatoes. The hope is that if it sells well then
it will go into supermarkets with te reo branded tomato sauce available across Aotearoa.
Anton is convinced that in order for te reo Māori to survive and thrive, it needs to be used for mundane purposes as well as important occasions. ‘It needs to be heard when you’re ordering coffee, when you’re paying your bills and when you’re making dinner.’
Anyone who has started the journey of trying to learn basic te reo Māori as an adult will appreciate how hard it is to find the time and energy required to make headway. For beginners, Anton recommends learning the language in small bite-sized pieces.
‘Everyday te reo by F USH’ – a series of YouTube videos that Anton has put together – is a good place to start and te reo videos are also posted from time to time on the F USH Facebook page. Hemi Kelly’s ‘Everyday Māori’ podcast is another excellent learning resource.
‘As New Zealanders, my dream is that we can get to a place where we embrace te reo Māori as a taonga [treasure] that belongs to all of us – and I include Māori in that too. As Māori, we have to accept non-Māori wanting to learn the language as well. My aspiration is to have mainstream New Zealanders embracing and using words like “whānau” and “hui” and answering the phone with “kia ora”.’
F USH embodies his aspiration, along with a reverence for ‘manaakitanga’ and ‘kaitiakitanga’. The latter word loosely means ‘guardianship’ and, from a business perspective, it means operating in sustainable, environmentally friendly ways and considering social impacts. It permeates all aspects of the business, driving purchase decisions on sustainably caught fish and eco-friendly packaging, as well as hiring decisions that favour people really needing a leg up.
Manaakitanga is about being a good host and looking after people – whānau, manuhiri (guests), staff and the wider community.
‘You can’t have mana without being able to do manaakitanga: if I’m doing manaakitanga well then my mana increases and the opposite is also true. For us, this is not just about creating a good business but also a wonderful staff who welcome these principles as well, and are willing to go out into their lives and practise manaakitanga as people, not just at F USH.’
Anton has lived in Ōtautahi Christchurch all his life, barring a few years spent overseas. His whakapapa (genealogy) also connects him with Northland (Te Rūnanga o Te Rarawa). Anton’s parents, Heather and Hector Matthews, wanted their son to grow up speaking te reo Māori and he attended Christchurch’s full-immersion Māori language school, Te Kura
Coinciding with Māori Language Week in 2020, FUSH released te reo Māori branded tomato sauce in partnership with Barker’s of Geraldine.
Kaupapa Māori o Te Whānau Tahi. ‘That was massive for me and I’m really grateful to my parents for putting me there as it gave me such a good foundation as an adult.’
As a young man, Anton was interested in both business and teaching. After leaving school, he worked in bars and restaurants, discovering a flair for hospitality before spending a year studying business and then enrolling at university to train as a teacher. He thought teaching would be his future career, but after two years found he wasn’t enjoying it and was missing hospitality.
He ultimately returned to hospitality, after honing his passion for te reo Māori in 2012 at the eminent Institute of Excellence in te reo Māori, Te Panekiretanga o te Reo Māori. The invitation-only course in both te reo and tikanga (protocols and customs) proved hugely challenging and rewarding. He bought his first business at the start of 2013.
Today, he and his whānau own and operate F USH, Joe’s Garage in Wigram and a couple of food trucks. They came through the Level 4 Lockdown well and continue to work hard, every day balancing business with the needs of their whānau and a love of te reo Māori. A goal for 2021 is to open another F USH store, still under their ownership.
As we end our interview, I ask Anton if he would like to share a favourite phrase with our readers. Here it is:
Ko te amorangi ki mua, Ko te hāpai ō ki muri.
He says it can be loosely translated as ‘there is mana in being out front and out the back’. Everyone has a purpose and everyone is important. In regards to te reo Māori, it could be interpreted as meaning ‘everyone can be a part of it’.