Time With
David Lee

Candy Shop
@candyshopnz

Gochu
@gochugotyou

Camper Coffee
@campercoffee

Pōni
@pōni_akl

Green Door Pizza
@greendoorpizzaco

Good Dog Bad Dog
@gooddogbaddoghotdog

Photography
@buchanancoulter

Time With
David Lee

David Lee

Having opened near to a dozen eateries now, Candy Shop and Gochu to name a couple. When did you realise opening your own café/restaurant was your dream?

As a child, I’d always dream of owning a restaurant one day. Maybe that dream played a part in my love for food, especially trying out new dishes.

In terms of opening a café, it was around 15 years ago when I first came to New Zealand that I experienced what a true café was, a local café in a tight-knit neighbourhood in New Zealand, I was completely fascinated. It wasn’t just a coffee and sandwich shop, or a place to satisfy your hunger and be caffeinated.

The space itself carried weight, and provided comfort in an indescribable way… the best way I can describe it is that it provided positive energy to the customers. It was then that I decided I will open my own café one day.

How would you describe your style of cooking?

To me, cooking equals imagination.

Just looking at an image of a dish, I add certain ingredients and tweak some to create a new menu. I love trying out these new, sometimes wild ideas that come to me in real life too. For example, it is a norm for me to substitute the classic tomato sauce with gochujang (Korean red pepper paste) and use pasta to make Sichuan noodles.


David wears our Three Pocket Workmans Coat in Chocolate and Fatigue Trouser in Walnut inside his café Candy Shop.

What do you want people to experience and feel when visiting your spaces and food?

Just because they’ve never tried a certain dish, I hope they don’t come with the preconception that it won’t be good, or that they are too scared to try. When you try a dish with the mindset of ‘this is wrong’, you can’t enjoy the dish.

I hope that people can lay down their preconceptions and judgements and really accept and taste the dish in that moment. ‘Different’ doesn’t mean ‘wrong’. And once you understand this, that ‘different’ dish can even become one’s favourite! It’s happened many times and those are the moments I live for.

How have your early experiences in life shaped your outlook on hospitality?

My early experiences were full of setbacks and obstacles. I jumped into hospitality for the love of it, but it came with many sacrifices and struggles. Having a family to look after, meant I couldn’t just think of myself. I had to make sure I could provide for them while doing what I love. It’s when you spend night and day, with perseverance and grit, to go towards your goal, that you can truly achieve what you desire. I had to go through times of perseverance and sacrifice to be where I am now.

If you have found your passion, then pour into that passion your time and perseverance. There will come a time when you will even enjoy the process of getting to that end goal.

Do you still love to get in the kitchen?

Of course. Even on my days off, I gravitate towards the kitchen. Cooking gives me joy and further on that, to see my wife and kids enjoy a meal I have prepared gives me the greatest joy.

Ingredients you can’t live without?

Can’t pinpoint any certain ingredients.. Anything that adds flavour? haha.

As long as it tastes good. For me taste is more important than it being healthy. If we’re so engulfed in our health and what ingredients are good for our bodies, we can’t enjoy all the deliciousness out there.

Sweet or spicy?

Spicy for sure.

Any advice for anyone looking to venture into hospitality?

I know that hospitality is not an easy sector to succeed in. It takes grit, passion and perseverance. I think that those who are successful in this industry pave the way for others to follow, as well as being a role model. It’s when you look out for the people around you that in return you're supported back and become a step closer to success. When I look back to my past, I can see how those who I reached a hand out to when they were struggling, were in turn those who gave me strength to keep moving forward.

I feel very blessed to be able to be working in a place where my passion lies, and to be able to live my childhood dream in an unexpected way. Furthermore, I get to witness those who I lent a hand to grow successful businesses of their own. Seeing people enjoy the spaces I have created gives me the greatest joy and satisfaction.