Korean immigrants behind beloved No.1 Pancake say emotional goodbye to customers after 12 years in Auckland CBD

A favourite of skinflint students or those in search of Korean comfort food, No.1 Pancake's production line likely made its way into the hearts of everyone who tried its irresistible sweet and savory treats. 

The store was tiny in size, yet it became an iconic staple in Auckland's CBD, begging the question - how did No.1 Pancake make such a big impact? 

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Here Newshub investigates the little-known tale of how the humble shop came to be so loved. 

It's a story of two hard-working Korean immigrants, Sung Kwon and Abigail Lim, who came to New Zealand in 1994. Their son David was by his parents' side on this journey. 

"In Korea my mum was a nurse. My dad graduated from law school [but] due to various family circumstances he never got to practice. So then he worked for a major hotel chain in the accounting department," he tells Newshub. 

When they arrived in New Zealand with a two-year-old David, the couple made Christchurch their home 

"When they first came to New Zealand they tried a bunch of different things. My dad started one of the first Korean radio channels in Christchurch. It was a segment on Plains FM. It was called Ace Korean radio," David says. 

"He also started an events company. He was one of the first people to organise major Korean cultural events and festivals in Christchurch. They also helped write an everyday English-Korean conversation book - you can find a copy in the library here."

Nowadays we may take New Zealand's multiculturalism for granted, but back in the late '90s, there wasn't a very large Korean presence in New Zealand. 

"They remember when they saw the first-ever major Korean grocery store open in New Zealand and the first major Korean restaurant. I remember them telling me about all their friends rushing out to the restaurant to finally go and eat some Korean food because they had lived without it for a few years." 

So where do pancakes fit into all of this? Well, first came a little hardship back in 2002 when the family moved back to Korea. 

In the hopes of starting a new business venture, the family decided to give New Zealand another go - this time in Auckland. 

"We had to come back and there were literally weeks where they couldn't afford enough groceries and my mum had to go around and ask for food from her friends and neighbours, so that was a really difficult few years."

In 2008 after just getting by, the family caught a break when an opportunity presented itself.

"They were talking to a friend within the church community and they were saying 'hey, we have this business in the city but we are actually wanting to move to Australia, so we're looking for someone to take over - would you like to get involved?’

"So that's how it started." 

Not having come from a culinary background, the couple learned how to run the business the hard way. 

"It really was a trial by fire. I remember when they first started, my mum had to prepare all the ingredients. She sat in front of this huge tub of chicken thighs and she was just sobbing as she was shredding the chicken... she was just overwhelmed by the amount of work and effort that went into it.”

But through all this, their hard work and effort paid off, and made them stars of Auckland's street food scene.     

“It's been a real labour of love because it's not like some sort of mass slick factory operation, it began as and has remained a small family business," David says. 

"I think the work has always been very labour-intensive, and that's also part of the reason why they are moving on because they are nearing 60 now and they just can't keep up with this.

"But at the same time, all the customers that they've met over the years - like the people who came when they were uni students then - they come with their own kids now. I think that's really what's kept them going. “

Now the end of an era has approached as the pancake store on the corner of Auckland's Lorne Street has closed its shutters for the final time.

On their last day No. 1 Pancake raised $3836, which they donated to Auckland City Mission.

Auckland's CBD and Auckland University students will have a pancake shaped hole in their heart.