Christchurch-based Anton Matthews is a passionate campaigner for the revival of te reo Māori, a restaurateur, businessman, event organiser and proud pāpā of three. His Wigram restaurant Fush, which he owns with his wife Jess and sister Māia Gooday, was put on the map five years ago when he started running free te reo Māori lessons. Word spread and now thousands have learnt te reo under his tutelage.

What’s teaching te reo Māori got to do with fish and chips?

When we set up our brand Fush in Wigram, we wanted to be authentic to who we are – a Māori-owned, whānau business – so we decided to have bilingual menus, with every item listed in English and te reo. Customers really appreciated that and were asking for guidance about how to pronounce and use the language correctly. 

At the same time, I realised my daughter Te Ariā Aroha was reverting to speaking English to me when we were out and about, whereas at home we would only speak Māori together. I reckoned she thought it wasn’t normal to speak it in public because everyone else was speaking English. I wondered what I could do about that, so we made a conscious decision to keep bringing as much reo into our businesses as possible and embrace the desire to learn by running a free beginners’ te reo Māori lesson at Fush.

Did you intend for it to become a national initiative?

We had no idea it would be so popular. Initially it was meant to be a one-off series of small classes for 12 people, but we quickly had to find a bigger venue because after advertising it on Facebook, there were close to 3,000 people who registered interest. We moved it to the local school and 900 turned up for four weeks in a row. That’s what put us on the map; it became a big story.

Anton Matthews, restaurateur and te reo teacher.
Anton Matthews, restaurateur and te reo teacher. © Tim Cuff

How much did te reo Māori feature in your childhood?

I was born in Ōtautahi Christchurch. Mum’s Pākehā and Dad’s Māori, and neither one of them learned te reo as children. We spoke as much Māori at home as we could. My parents were always saying things like ‘aroha nui’ to tell me they loved me, but English was definitely the dominant language. The change was when I was put into kōhanga reo at the age of two and then kura Kaupapa Māori (full-immersion Māori schooling) for my primary school years.

Are you glad your parents made that decision?

I admire them for recognising the value of the language early in my life and education, but it wasn’t an easy decision because people were against it at the time. It was considered risky and alternative, so many others questioned why they were doing it. 

My parents wanted my generation to be far better than theirs, and now we’re seeing that my children’s generation is far better than my generation. The Christchurch immersion school where I went is now where my daughter Ariā and my son Mana both go. My youngest, Kōtuku, who’s two years old will go there, too. 

How did you get into teaching?

I actually left kura Kaupapa Māori to attend Christchurch Boys’ High School for my high school years because I was serious about playing rugby at the time and knew that would be the best place to be. Within a couple of days I found myself teaching the school haka to my peers and taking a leadership role in that space. So I guess my teaching days started way back then.

By the time I left high school I already had my university major in Te Reo Māori. I followed that with a second major in Māori Indigenous Studies at the University of Canterbury (UC) and then later I had the privilege of graduating from Te Panekiretanga o te Reo Māori (the Institute of Excellence in te reo Māori). After that I gained a Graduate Diploma in Teaching and Learning, also from UC. 

Why the restaurant business then?

I fell in love with hospitality after starting in it part-time at 16 and continuing through my degrees. My whānau bought a business, Joe’s Garage in Sumner, back in 2013, and I assembled a rockstar group of friends and whānau members, including my sister Māia, and that’s where we cut our teeth. We won café of the year that year but sold it in 2016 so we could focus on Joe’s Wigram, which was a much bigger store. In late 2016 we opened Fush, next door to Joe’s Wigram. 

What’s Fush all about?

We’ve found our niche in premium fish and chips. We wanted to create a cool brand and take fish and chips really seriously. We didn't want to do it cheap, we wanted to do it the right way - even down to the best homemade tartare sauce, chunky Agria chips, the most ideal cooking fat, and amazing seasoning.

Key to our quality brand has been sustainability and sourcing fish that fits best with our kaupapa, our purpose.  We worked really hard to find suppliers that aligned with our values and we only wanted to use sustainably caught fish. 

It's important to us not just to serve the best, but that we do our bit to ensure the decisions we make will better serve our future generations. Some people use kaitiakitanga as a marketing gimmick but for us it's just who we are!

Your business has mushroomed and Fush is now part of a bigger organisation you’ve created called Hustle Group – can you tell us more about that?

Yes, as well as Joe’s and Fush, the group also includes Hustle Events, Hustle Education, Angitu Charitable Trust, Wigram Catering Company, and a handful of food trucks that we call the Fush Waka. 

We have this entire business now that goes out and delivers workshops and creates resources with businesses and Government agencies all over the country. So that’s a big part of what I do now – teaching workshops to businesses around te reo and Te Tiriti o Waitangi – as well as policy work and translation work. 

We started the food trucks five years ago. We've travelled around the South Island and filled out town halls and school halls running classes and selling fish and chips along the way. It’s been a really cool part of our journey.

Through our charitable arm, Angitu Trust, as well as the free language courses we also support local schools with sponsorships. It's part of the reason we built a business, so that we could do things on our own terms and give back. Te reo, tikanga and manaakitanga are at the heart of what we do to normalise the language through the business. 

What’s your hope for the future?

That people will become so confident at dropping Māori words into English sentences it will become a natural way for New Zealanders to speak, regardless of who they are and what their ethnicity is. 

How does it feel when you hear people who’ve been on the courses using te reo?

Proud! Proud of them but also proud of us. That’s my job – that’s my responsibility as a guardian or custodian of the language. I was afforded an opportunity as a youngster thanks to the decision my parents made, and I’m grateful for it. Now it’s my role as a kaitiaki – to do what I can to make sure I leave the language in a better state than I found it and to be a good ancestor. My tamariki will be my legacy. 

Read from AA Directions magazine while you're here: 

Reported by Fiona Terry for our Autumn 2023 issue

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