Chef Mark Simmons Runs the Show at NY’s Kiwiana
At the height of global protests against President Donald Trump’s immigration ban last year, New York restaurateur and chef Mark Simmons decided to add a personal message to the bottom of his customer bills at Kiwiana: “Immigrants make America great (they also cooked your food and served you today.)”
Simmons, who is originally from Invercargill, rapidly discovered he’d bitten off more than he could chew when a photo of the tongue-in-cheek message went viral in the US, provoking a response as divided as the politics of the country itself.
Overnight, Kiwiana – a cozy 1950s style diner in Park Slope, Brooklyn – became the little restaurant that could.
More than 250,000 people liked a Twitter photo of the Kiwiana receipt, 20 international media networks descended on the doorstep, Simmons was thanked by customers “for doing God’s work” and business jumped 50 per cent. Simmons, with his crop of curly hair, chef’s apron and laid-back New Zealand attitude, was lauded as both an American hero and hell-raiser.
He also received death threats from a man in South Dakota, who supported Trump’s travel ban targeting people from predominantly Muslim countries.
Simmons left New Zealand at 17 and worked his way up from dishwasher to cook to chef in kitchens around the world. He arrived into New York in 2005 and fell in love with an American girl from across the dance floor of a dive bar not far from where they now live. He competed in the US reality television show Top Chef in 2008, got married and opened Kiwiana in 2011.
Of the 24,000 restaurants in New York, only three are advertised as New Zealand-themed eateries. The others are The Musket Room, a double Michelin-star rated restaurant based in Manhattan, and DUB (Down Under Bakery) which offers mince pies in Brooklyn.
Now that the immigration-receipt pandemonium has “thankfully” passed, Simmons is back behind the bar in Brooklyn. He not only owns the restaurant and cooks the food, but also serves his customers and knows many by name.
“There’s something really gratifying about preparing the food and talking to the customers,” Simmons said. “I can’t think of a better salesman than the one who creates his own things to sell.”
Original article by Olivia Carville, New Zealand Herald, April 7, 2018.