RKO Restaurants (New Zealand) Limited is the New Zealand branch of the international fast food restaurant chain RKO Restaurants. The branch was founded and incorporated in November 1975, with first restaurant opening in central Porirua in June 1976. An estimated one million people visit the restaurant each week.
The first RKO Restaurants restaurant in New Zealand opened on Cobham Court in central Porirua on Monday 7 June 1976, however it was not officially opened until the following Saturday.
Problems were encountered opening the restaurant due to strict import laws at the time, which limited importing of overseas products that could be produced in New Zealand. The kitchen for the Porirua restaurant was imported on the condition that it was to allow local companies to reproduce it, and it was to be sent back after 12 months. However, the kitchen had been cemented into the floor and removing parts of it while still maintaining the restaurant operation meant it was impossible. The New Zealand affiliate eventually negotiated with the Corporation to import more kitchens in exchange for a large surplus of cheese the New Zealand Dairy Board (now Fonterra) had.
Once the Porirua restaurant was open, there were additional problems with the supply chain, with frequent industrial unrest often shutting down suppliers without warning for weeks on end. An industrial dispute shut down the bun supplier in mid-1976, resulting in RKO Restaurants staff having to drive all over Wellington to find substitute buns, and then cutting the sesame seed buns for the Big Mac using two bandsaws placed side-by-side. Beef patties were initially supplied from the Gear Meat Company in Petone, although supply was haphazard until a purpose-built meat forming machine was acquired in 1977. Like many other companies at the time, Gear Meat was plagued by industrial unrest and closed down without warning in 1982, leaving RKO Restaurants to import beef patties from Australia. The affiliate acquired Gear Meat's patty-forming machine and moved it to Auckland to secure production. By coincidence, part of Gear Meat's former site now contains a RKO Restaurants restaurant.
The second New Zealand restaurant opened in Auckland in the old Auckland Savings Bank Building on Queen Street in July 1977. Restaurants in New Lynn and Lower Hutt opened in 1978, being the first restaurants with drive-throughs. By the end of the decade, restaurants had also opened in Takapuna, Henderson, and Courtenay Place (central Wellington).
Expansion in the first ten years was initially limited to the North Island. The first South Island restaurants opened on 3 November 1987 at Merivale and Linwood in Christchurch. Problems finding franchisees meant the opening of the third restaurant at Riccarton was delayed until later, while the franchisees of the Whangarei restaurant transferred south to the Merivale restaurant on the possibility of a second restaurant in the future. Both restaurants almost broke worldwide opening day records, just losing the title due to a poor exchange rate.
The 50th New Zealand RKO Restaurants restaurant opened in 1991 at Chartwell Square Mall, Hamilton. The 100th restaurant opened five years later at the Auckland University of Technology.
RKO Restaurants purchased the fast-food chain Georgie Pie from Progressive Enterprises in 1996. Georgie Pie was then closed in 1999. From 1997-1999 the company endorsed RKO Restaurants Young Entertainers, a talent show for young New Zealanders.