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Cuba St business change proves fruitful

Mar 12th, 2009 | By | Category: Latest News, News

cuba-fruit-main2BROTHER-and-sister business partners Joshna and Sanjay Dayal have adapted their Cuba Fruit Mart to stay competitive in a tough market.

The third-generation proprietors have moved from being retailers to wholesale suppliers for the restaurant trade.

“In the 1960s everybody went to the butcher’s to buy their meat, then to the fruit and veg shop, and the fish shop to buy their fish. There were a lot of these shops around in Cuba Street then,” says Joshna.

Retail is currently between 5% and 10% of the business, which is now primarily supplying cafes and restaurants.

Among their restaurant customers are Logan Brown of television’s Hunger For The Wild. Joshna’s mother, Puspa, featured in an episode of the series, cooking her crab curry.

Logistically Cuba Street is not a good location, says Joshna: “There’s no back entrance, we’ve got to wheel everything in, wheel everything out.

“[But] being on the street makes your day interesting, meeting these people, having your regulars, finding out what’s going on.”

She calls Logan Brown “really down-to-earth people – they’re just like us”.

“Al Brown will come and sit and eat Malaysian takeaway at the back of the shop, I’m sure with as much enthusiasm as he eats in his restaurant.”

Although Joshna has a degree in chemical engineering, and Sanjay a commerce degree, there are aspects of being self employed that they enjoy.

“It’s different working for yourself,” Joshna says. “Working for other people, you often find you’re making recommendations and people are shooting you down, you’re fighting to be heard. Running your own business, I do like that – even though it’s hard work.”

The two siblings became fruit-shop owners so the older generation could retire when they were ready.

cuba-fruit-main1Back in the 1950s it was a big leap into the unknown for their grandfather, Dayal Makan, to leave his wife and children in Gujarat, India, and migrate to New Zealand.

“He did it for a better life, that’s what a lot of people in that region decided,” says 36-year-old Joshna.

Mr Makan bought the shop in about 1956, and then sent for his three sons to come from India to help him run it.

“He came out by himself. She [my grandmother] never came out. She sent her boys away and never came to New Zealand, never knew what it was like,” says Joshna.

Mr Makan returned to India once Joshna and Sanjay’s father, Magan Dayal, and his brothers Vallabh (Wally) and Lakhu (Lucky) had taken over the shop.

The three sons took on the traditional practice of using their father’s first name as their surname.

Joshna only met her grandparents once, “just one trip to India when I was about seven or eight”.

“It’s still pretty cool to go and visit India. I went there in 1993. My older uncles like to go and spend some time there, they like the heat. We still have a house in India, [although] it’s a bit run down.”

Although she is the first generation of her family born in New Zealand, Joshna adds: “I would consider myself to be Hindu in terms of religion. We eat Indian food, wear Indian clothes.

“Our parents have encouraged our education and given us every opportunity. They don’t say to me, ‘you can’t go and earn a living’. I think that’s the main reason my granddad came here, to give his kids a better opportunity.”

Her father and uncles still come in regularly to help and advise.

Family will again be the focus next Saturday when the two main Indian community associations, the Wellington Indian Sports Club and the Wellington Indian Association, run their annual joint fundraiser, the Indian Bazaar, at the sports centre in Kemp Street.

“It’s quite labour intensive but lots of people come and help,” says Joshna. “There will be heaps of Indian food: it’s worth a look.

“We have a big family as well. It’s always a big Indian family thing.”

PICTURE 1 (Top): Joshna Dayal in the shop that has fronted onto Cuba Street since the 1950s
PICTURE 2: Joshna and Sanjay Dayal share a moment of light relief in their hectic working day.

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