4 July 2024

Turning Japanese: Owen twins celebrate 50th year in style, pay tribute to father

| Oliver Jacques
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Japanese party

The Owen family celebrate the 50th anniversary of their dealership with a Japanese-themed party. Photo: Supplied.

It was in June 1974 that young Griffith man Lester Owen purchased shares and became part owner of car dealership Gilbro Motors, with a dozen employees selling a then little-known vehicle brand called Toyota.

Fast forward to today and Owen Toyota is now celebrating its 50-year anniversary, with twin sons Mark and Dean Owen owning and running the business.

On Saturday (29 June), staff evoked the classic 1980s song by The Vapors, Turning Japanese with a party to mark the occasion.

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The team dressed in theme and transformed the Owen Toyota dealership into ‘Little Japan’, in dedication to the Japanese brand founded by Kiichiro Toyoda, whose birthday also falls in the month of June (‘Toyoda’ uses 10 Japanese strokes to write while ‘Toyota’ uses only eight. Eight is considered a lucky number in Japanese culture, so the brand name was changed as such).

“In keeping up with our reputation of having fun at work, we held a Japanese-themed event for our employees and their partners in our showroom,” Dean Owen said.

“It was an amazing celebration with traditional Japanese food, drinks, drumming and dancing. We even threw in some Sumo wrestling and karate wood chopping for some extra fun.

“A lot of work went into setting up and packing up the event, but our handmade cherry blossom tree remains in the showroom as a reminder of our 50th year.”

Sumo wrestling

Sumo wrestling was on the agenda. Photo: Supplied.

Mark and Dean were presented with a Mount Fuji Japanese Whisky each before cutting the birthday cake with their mother Beverly, who co-founded the Owen Toyota legacy with her late husband.

Entertainment was provided by taiko drummers Koji and Akiko Yura and there was traditional dance by SBS Radio Host Junko Hirabayashi.

The dealership was previously located on the corner of Wakaden and Altin streets, with an iconic Melbourne Tram as a sales office. It’s now come a long way with their current facility along Mackay Avenue awarded “Australia’s Best Looking Rural Dealership” by the Australian Automotive Dealers Association in 2023.

“I am proud of the legacy our father began 50 years ago and for what Mark and I have accomplished in the family business over the last 30 years. However, this couldn’t be achieved without the incredible support of the local community and our dedicated long-term employees. For this I am extremely grateful,” Dean said.

Old photo of Owen Toyota

The Owen Toyota dealership in the early 1980s. Photo: Deb Jansen/Old Griffith NSW Album Facebook page.

The company has taken the term “family business” to the next level and is known around town as ‘Love Island’.

In April, it celebrated its fifth marriage among staff who met at the business, when Daniel and Alana Panarello tied the knot.

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Owen Toyota has also commemorated its half century by selling an all-electric car in Griffith for the first time.

The bZ4X was launched at Owen Toyota in early March.

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