Get a table at your Hapi place
What started as love for dumplings born from a favourite childhood memory has grown into thriving CBD business creating a new happy place for diners. Hapi owner Matt Carrington shares the inspiration behind Hapi and what keeps them going strong.
AlburyCBD: Tell us, what’s the Hapi backstory?
Matt: We’re coming up to our sixth birthday. We had Boom Boom in AMP Lane before that, where the chef and I just started making dumplings after service and eating them ourselves outside of service. Then I found the site [465C Dean St], the lease came up, and I said to the chef, “What are your thoughts?”
I’ve always loved dumplings. They always take me to my happy place. The name ‘Hapi’ is a play on three different things. Growing up, it was always a happy time having dumplings with family in Melbourne. Happiness in the Chinese language is a big thing, and then the symbolic Chinese happy cat, too. It was the mix of those things, and we put our twist on it by misspelling it.
AlburyCBD: What’s the food scene in Albury like now? Has it started to become more metropolitan?
Matt: I think in the last seven years it’s grown a lot which has been awesome to see. I think there is still a huge range of potential to keep going. It’s an exciting possibility that Albury could be a food hub down the track. We’re not there yet, but there have been some great shops that have opened up recently.
I get two big kicks from being a part of this [the Albury food scene]. One is it’s community-based and working with people all the time. The second one is working with the crew that I have. People might have noticed a very young crew at both restaurants (Matt also runs Norma). My mum’s a teacher, and I think I’ve taken on that DNA of loving to teach. I’m dyslexic, so it’s a nightmare to consider putting an essay together, but I love visual teaching and learning.
Our young crew are young adults who want to have a bit of a crack and want to be in an environment where they can really learn a lot. My biggest thrill, apart from being in the restaurant industry, is working with them.
AlburyCBD: Everyone behind the counter at Hapi is super friendly and attentive, and you never feel like you get lost in the shuffle, even when it’s busy.
Matt: I’m very happy to hear that. We do get some great compliments and feedback from the customers. The team is filled with people who want to be there and care about their job. They are really proud of each other and how they work together as a team. I’m proud of that too, but I only facilitate that environment. They are the ones who have been working in it for five and a half years, and it’s a really special part of Hapi.
I’d say we get more feedback on the teamwork and the general vibe than on the restaurant itself. It’s part of the culture and experience for customers to come and see a very young crew cook and do the whole show.
AlburyCBD: How is being in the CBD for you? Is it a big part of what makes Hapi, Hapi?
Matt: For the dumpling bar, we wanted a central location. For Hapi, we wanted it to be accessible to a larger demographic. There’s an element of street food within Hapi. It’s that quick, fun, enjoyable, get in, get out kind of vibe, so being in the hustle and bustle of Albury adds to that whole experience.
AlburyCBD: You’ve got the parklet out front. How has that been for business?
Matt: I think it’s added a lot to the whole vibe of the area and street landscape. As I mentioned with street food, it’s bringing people out into the street to enjoy the space, which I absolutely love. I was there this morning, and there were three or four people sitting there, the sun was coming through, and they were just relaxing in the space.
I think it’s a great incentive. I’m hoping it can stay as long as it’s allowed to. I would definitely support that.
AlburyCBD: You recently renovated the restaurant; what was that process like, and what brought it on?
Matt: It was the second lockdown, and I don’t think I had it in me to sit still. I had it as a Plan B if we got locked down again. We were coming up to our fifth birthday, so I thought it was a good time to do it.
Five years is a long time for a restaurant, and I felt like it needed a fun makeover without affecting who Hapi is. It’s taken us a while to finish the renovation and get into the decoration – the soft furnishings have just come in. I’ve enjoyed the process of recreating the space.
The crew got involved and helped paint and put everything back together. I think that’s part of the Hapi culture. I always argue that it’s not my restaurant, it’s their restaurant, and I think they are proud and take on that mentality. It’s really special for them to have that mentality, especially at a young age.
AlburyCBD: What’s next for Hapi
Matt: Oh, maybe mushroom dumplings?
Produced by Rhiannon Veness in partnership with AlburyCBD.