Purewa — Thomas Henry Ah Chee
Thomas Henry (Tom) Ah Chee (1928-2000) opened the first supermarket in New Zealand or Australia in 1958.
The Otahuhu Foodtown supermarket was beside the Great South Road to the south of Otahuhu but was in fact situated in Otara. Three small business owners – Tom Ah Chee, Norman Kent, and John Brown – sold their small businesses and pooled their resources to personally build and supervise construction of New Zealand’s first American-style supermarket. The Otahuhu supermarket proved a success and a second Foodtown was built and opened in Takanini, South Auckland in 1961.
Tom Ah Chee was born in Remuera, Auckland, but travelled with his parents to Canton, China, in 1931, returning to Auckland as an 11-year-old. He was a bright pupil and head boy at Remuera Primary School and then studied industrial science at Seddon Memorial Technical College but his education to become an architect was cut short by his father’s death and he took over the family fruit shop. It was there he foresaw that large supermarkets would determine the future of food distribution in New Zealand. His family has retailed fruit and vegetables in Auckland since the days when his grandfather sold produce from baskets in Queen Street in the I870’s.
He began work in his father’s (Clement Calliop Ah Chee) Newmarket shop Fruitworth in the late 1930s. In the 1940s the family began to move away from straight retailing into mass produce retailing. Their shop on the corner of Great South and St Marks Roads became a site where they sold cases of apples, peaches and potatoes. Tom had both a retail and a wholesale operation on Great South Road. Tom Ah Chee remained involved with Foodtown until 1982 when he resigned as chief executive. By that stage it was a public company owned by Progressive Enterprises with 23 supermarkets across Auckland. All the stores were rebranded as Countdown by the end of 2011.
Tom Ah Chee was inducted into the New Zealand Business Hall of Fame in 2002. He is buried at Purewa Cemetery Block D Row 28 Plot 71E.