The Café Manager, Xabi Gutierrez

Introducing Café Manager & hospo icon Xabi Gutierrez

Where I started: Polishing glasses at a bar in San Sebastian (aged 17). 
Where I am now: Customer Experience Manager at Allpress.

Walk into Auckland’s Drake Street Allpress on any given day and you’ll be met with Xabi Gutierrez’s megawatt smile and quintessentially Spanish, spirited persona. By your second visit to the bustling café, he’ll not only know your name, but what mood you’re in — and exactly what it is that you need. 

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This innate penchant for connection was a gift passed down from Gutierrez’s mother, who placed a huge emphasis on cooking and hosting throughout his childhood. It’s this that inspired the San Sebastian native’s reverence for the preparation and serving of food — although the eating part didn’t come quite so naturally. “I wasn’t a good eater growing up,” he laughs, before confessing “My mum eventually got so fed up with me not eating the wonderful food she prepared, that one night, she plonked a whole steak on my head.” It was then that Gutierrez first developed an appreciation for what was put on his plate, and the process of getting it there, and it was this — paired with a childhood spent watching his mother serve food with an easy warmth and generosity, that ultimately led him to pursue a career in hospitality. 

After getting a taste for the vibrant food and drink scene in his hometown of San Sebastian, where there are more Michelin starred restaurants per capita than anywhere in the world, Gutierrez caught the bug, and the rest, as they say, is history. His first gig polishing glasses in a local bar quickly turned into more, and before long (after attending culinary school with the goal of becoming a chef), he found himself behind the pass of a busy restaurant in central London. While he loved the creativity of cooking and the frenetic atmosphere of a kitchen, it was the opportunity to meet people and build relationships that excited him most. “Working in the kitchen was great, but to me the food was a tool for service — what it was really about was what I could give to someone; how I could look after them,” he says, before continuing, “I quickly realised that out on the floor I could connect with people directly.” And so began his career as a waiter. He’s never looked back. 

“For me, it’s the desire to give, and the ability to really connect with someone… pick up on whether they’re sad or happy… or need cheering up — that’s what [my job] is really about, and the reason I love it.”

Gutierrez worked in lively restaurants and gastro pubs in London for years, including stints at both Gordon Ramsay’s and Jamie Oliver’s famous eateries, before making his way to New Zealand where he worked for Mark Wallbank at Rocco and Natalia Schamroth and Carl Koppenhagen at The Engine Room, before landing at Allpress, where he’s spent the last decade happily solidifying himself as one of the most recognisable (and likeable) figures in Auckland’s daytime hospitality scene. 

And it’s still the promise of connection — really getting to know someone on a deeper-than-surface level, that keeps him motivated. “Anyone can carry coffee to a table,” he says without a hint of arrogance, “But what does it mean?” “For me, it’s the desire to give, and the ability to really connect with someone and know what’s going on in their lives; pick up on whether they’re sad or happy; when they want to chat or need cheering up — that’s what [my job] is really about, and the reason I love it,” Gutierrez tells me. 

When I ask what advice he’d offer someone looking to get started in hospitality, he says that you can’t be afraid of working hard, before adding “You get out of it what you put in. If you’re willing to give to people and make their days a little better with a positive experience, what you get back in return will surprise you.” And, that’s the thing about the industry — if you have the desire to give it everything, the opportunities it will offer in return are endless. And Xabi, the man with the infectious energy and magnetic personality, who found his calling in making his customers’ morning coffee
run the highlight of their day, is proof of just that.

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