Kiwi Entrepreneur Malcolm Luke – the driving spirit behind successful Bonny’s Pizza Pub
Bonny’s Pizza Pub team
If you venture over to Haebangchon (HBC) – just a short walk up the main road from the famed Kimchi pots on the left – you will find a nice slice of Kiwi lifestyle and culture in the middle of Seoul Korea. Bonny’s Pizza Pub, owned and operated by New Zealander Malcolm Luke – a humble and friendly gentleman – has been providing customers with a great atmosphere, quality service and ‘to die for’ pizza.
Bonny’s – Popular among young Koreans
As a board director of The Kiwi Chamber, Mr. Luke understands the importance of the Korea-New Zealand business relationship and the role that SMEs play in the local community here in Korea. He is well-known in the international community, and many support his efforts as an entrepreneur, business owner and individual.
“When we talk about the New Zealand-Korean business relationship, people often think about the big companies on either side – like Zespri and Fonterra and Samsung and Hyundai – but just as important in the overall relationship are the many smaller businesses on both sides,” said Philip Turner, New Zealand Ambassador to Korea. “A good example is Bonny’s Pizza, a business based in Haebangchon, Seoul, run by Kiwi entrepreneur Malcolm Luke. It is my local pizzeria – where I order takeaways. They provide great tasting pizza with excellent delivery – and you can eat there as well if you wish.”
“He employs a large number of local staff and leads the business as a proud Kiwi. Every time I order a pizza, I know I am contributing to the Korea-New Zealand relationship, and I suspect that the cheese on the pizza also comes from New Zealand,” added Ambassador Turner.
Bonny’s delicious pizza offering
Over the last year, Malcolm has played an instrumental role in The Kiwi Chamber through his uncompromising support and willingness to throw his hand up whenever needed.
“The skills that Malcolm has used to build his successful business and be part of the New Zealand community make him a very valued member of the Kiwi Chamber,” said Dr. Tony Garrett, Chairman, The Kiwi Chamber. “He is enthusiastic, the first to offer his services and get involved, and has a strong business acumen and common sense – basically just a good guy!”
Supporting Kiwi Chamber social initiatives
Malcolm and his Bonny’s Pizza team are very popular among many circles in the international community here in Seoul, but one that especially stands out is his friendships with people in the defence force – and they definitely have his back!!!
“Malcolm Luke and Bonny’s has been a long and strong supporter of our New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) people here in Korea,” said Colonel Don Jones, Defence Attaché to the Republic of Korea and Chief New Zealand Liaison Officer to UN Command / UNCMAC. “I’ve been the NZDF Attaché in Korea for four years now and Malcolm has been such a great help for supporting my official entertainment events with catering or by having NZDF-hosted events at Bonny’s. More than this support to NZDF though, Malcom and his wife EJ have been good friends, good friends to a lot of people, and always ready to ask how things are going and to share a drink.”
Special time with friends
In addressing Malcolm’s success in Korea, Colonel Jones remarked, “Malcolm is an animated host, and his business model is a really attractive one. They have the international vibe plus great pizzas with a great range of local and international beers, so there’s no surprise to me that Bonny’s has long lines of people waiting to dine there each night. All the best to them as Bonny’s expands and opens a second restaurant South of the river.”
As part of its Inspire with Innovation Series and focus on local entrepreneurs, the Kiwi Chamber caught up with Malcolm Luke, Director/Co-founder, Bonny’s Pizza Pub, to hear more about his business operations, secrets to success, upcoming expansion, outstanding pizza and, of course, ice cold beer!
Please tell us about Bonny’s Pizza Pub and its operations in Seoul. When did you open and where are you located? Why “Bonny’s” – what is the meaning behind the name?
We opened in December 2012 and are located about halfway up the main road in Haebangchon – a district of Yongsan, Seoul.
We were originally aiming to operate as a sports-pizza pub focusing on Commonwealth sports – not then well-catered to in the area – and over time it morphed into a more mainstream pizza restaurant frequented by young Koreans.
The name is an interesting one. We were going to call it ‘Volcanoes Pizza Pub,’ but there were already several registered businesses in Seoul using that title. My brother-in-law, who was our only fulltime employee uses ‘Bonny’ as an English name, so we thought with the simplicity and connotations of happiness, that would as good anything.
What style of pizza does Bonny’s offer and what are your best-selling pizzas? There are a lot of pizza places in Seoul – what differentiates Bonny’s Pizza Pub from others?
We have fifteen pizzas on the menu, but it is the classic favorites that are the best sellers. I’d say around eighty percent of pizzas sold are half & half, with Pepperoni-Hawaiian the clear crowd favorite.
Half and half pepperoni and Hawaiian pizza
In terms of differentiation, we have somewhere in the region of 100 drink choices, both alcoholic and non, and a diverse, international staffing team with anywhere between 10 and 15 nationalities represented at any given time. This makes for a dynamic, open environment.
Bonny’s Pizza Pub is known for lines of customers waiting to get in. What do you attribute your popularity to? What are your plans to grow in market?
That’s a really good question! I have no idea and have always found it a bit bizarre. A couple of stabs I would have at it would be it’s reasonably priced, tasty and consistent, and the utter necessity for modern youth that it looks nice in photographs with a cold beer accompanying for Instagram upload. I think it would be fair to say social media and particularly Instagram have been instrumental in getting our name and products out there without having to commit to large marketing budgets, which are generally beyond the reach of nascent SMEs.
Bonny’s immense popularity
I understand that Bonny’s will expand in Seoul with a new location. Please tell us about the new location and when it will open. Will it be under the same Bonny’s Pizza Pub model?
Yes, we’re currently renovating a premises we purchased earlier in the year in Songpa, which is near the Lake Park, and we’re looking to have it operational by the early autumn.
We intend to run it along the same lines as Bonny’s in HBC, perhaps with a slightly stronger focus on takeout orders for people relaxing and picnicking in the park, if that is ever allowed again.
Coming soon – Bonny’s new location
The pandemic has posed many challenges for the restaurants and retail sector locally. How has the last year and a half affected Bonny’s and how do you see the future Korean market?
It’s undoubtedly been our most challenging trading period. With the latest round of increased COVID regulations, it’s the fifth major trough we’ve had during the 18-month pandemic. While this one hasn’t been as deep as the previous ones, perhaps due to fatigue, each one leads to tough decisions around staffing and outgoings. We have a fantastic team of loyal, mostly long-term people and they’ve been brilliant in their flexibility – helping us ride out the various outbreaks and ready to get right back into it when cases subside and people who are starved of social contact rush to re-fill hospitality outlets.
As a Kiwi entrepreneur in Korea what connects you to The Kiwi Chamber? What is your current role in the chamber and how does Bonny’s Pizza Pub support Kiwi initiatives in Korea?
I guess prior to joining the Chamber as a board director, Bonny’s was a place for Kiwis based in or passing through Seoul to coalesce around events of national significance, mainly, but not exclusively, sporting. We have had some fantastic days in there for rugby and cricket world cups as well as other times for not so joyous reasons when everyone wants to get together.
More recently, we’ve catered events for the Kiwi Defense Force & Embassy and have sponsored a wide range of sporting, social and charity groups down through the years.
My current role in the chamber is to co-ordinate social events, which in the current climate is not a particularly demanding one!
Supporting the local business community
Please tell us a little about yourself and your stay in Korea. How has Korea changed since you first came here?
The changes I’ve seen in Korea during my stay have been quite remarkable. I’m not sure there would be another nation in the world with a larger schism between older and younger generations – young people, in the past ten years, have become more independent and less inclined to follow the traditional life marker checklist in relation to careers, marriage and asset accumulation. Working around people predominantly under the age of 30, the proliferation of everything from tattoos to wild hair colors and independent fashion styles has these young folks living in a totally different world to those, say, 40 years old and above.
This makes Korea a fascinating place to live and work – always on the move and constantly reinventing itself. I have no doubt the next 10 years will be just as interesting.