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Susie Wang and Luke McLeod run a takeaway joint from their garage in Auckland. (Image: Archi Banal)
Susie Wang and Luke McLeod run a takeaway joint from their garage in Auckland. (Image: Archi Banal)

KaiDecember 1, 2021

Some of Auckland’s best burgers are served out of an inner-suburb garage

Susie Wang and Luke McLeod run a takeaway joint from their garage in Auckland. (Image: Archi Banal)
Susie Wang and Luke McLeod run a takeaway joint from their garage in Auckland. (Image: Archi Banal)

An unassuming garage on a residential Auckland street is home to a surprisingly bustling takeaway operation. Charlotte Muru-Lanning talks to the couple behind the popular joint.

Auckland’s Onslow Road runs one street over from Eden Park, the home of All Black games and massive Six60 concerts. Despite providing a link between the somewhat-boutique Kingsland village and vibrant food hub Dominion Road, it’s a quiet road.

Halfway down the street is something quite unexpected: a garage festooned with twinkling fairy lights. This is Big Balls, a humble takeout burger, sub and taco joint that’s fast gaining a loyal following. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings the footpath outside hosts a near-constant flow of hungry locals picking up brown bags filled with dinner.

Susie Wang and Luke McLeod, both in their 20s, started Big Balls as a food truck last year. Before the start of the pandemic the couple had been working the ski season in Canada with dreams of spending their savings on a once-in-a-lifetime road trip around Africa. When Covid-19 upended their plans they returned to New Zealand and put their money into a food truck business instead. 

It was a gutsy move for two people with very little professional hospitality experience. Undeterred, they took to the road in November last year, working straight through to March at festivals, markets and pubs across the country.

When Auckland shifted to alert level three in September, and takeaways became the only “dining out” option available, the couple decided to keep their truck parked in Bombay. Instead, they turned their attention to the unused brick garage out the front of their flat. “We just went down there, cleaned it up, painted the walls and put our cooking stuff in there,” says McLeod.

Though Big Balls’ menu changes weekly, it revolves around the food truck’s original meatball concept with favourites like spaghetti and meatballs, and meatball subs. Some weeks they branch out, serving up gourmet burgers or tacos. 

When I visit early on a Thursday evening, I order one of each of their burgers. One is the Sticky Ricky, which could be described as a more refined version of Burger King’s BBQ Rodeo. It consists of a plush but not overly soft Daily Bread bun filled with braised pork belly, smoked cheese, cucumber, aioli and miraculously crispy onion rings. I also grab its vegetarian counterpart, the Eggplant Ricky. Both are extremely good. The tomato and buffalo mozzarella salad punctuated with ginger and coriander is a perfect example of the casual way Wang allows dishes to be informed by her Chinese heritage.

Emphasis is put on where their ingredients come from. Meat is all free-range from the Grey Lynn Butcher, tomatoes are organic from Curious Croppers and breads are supplied by Daily Bread, who use regeneratively farmed flours from the South Island. 

The pair have turned their flat garage into a bustling food destination. (Photos: Charlotte Muru-Lanning)

Big Balls’ Instagram following, which has more than doubled since the garage’s opening, reflects the word-of-mouth popularity the couple have garnered. Their customers are neighbours who wander down to pick up orders and people who’ve driven from further afield. Mcleod says they’ve sold out every night they’ve been open – “except for the day we did tacos”. 

The tasty food served up from the tiny space is certainly reason enough for their popularity, but McLeod also reckons the garage setting adds to the appeal. 

They don’t want to claim credit for the garage concept, and know of others in the “food truck family” serving takeaways from home. But they haven’t seen anyone else doing the same from a carport. “I guess we were really lucky that our house had such a cool little garage,” McLeod says.

Do their two flatmates mind a busy takeout joint in their front yard? There’s been no complaints so far. “I’m surprised that they haven’t got sick of us,” admits McLeod.

Neighbours too seem pleased to have them. In fact, those on either side of Wang and McLeod’s flat have become customers. “I mean, I don’t know if people complain to your face,” McLeod says. But “everybody’s just super positive about it”. 

The unique set-up has created an unexpected outcome. With changeable living situations, especially for renters, along with more time spent working or on social media, knowing our neighbours is often seen as a quaint relic of the past. An Australian survey from a few years back found that just half of responders would recognise their neighbours out on the street.

The garage takeaway operation has helped Wang and McLeod forge relationships with those who share their neighbourhood – people they likely otherwise wouldn’t have interacted with. “I can’t imagine a situation where that would have occurred without the garage there,” says McLeod.

Big Balls is open for dinner Thursday to Saturday, and from 12-2pm on Saturday. They plan to continue operating through the summer, with reduced hours.

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