The Independent Restaurant Owner, Carlo Buenaventura

Introducing independent Restaurant Owner & hospo icon Carlo Buenaventura

Where I started: Making burgers at McDonalds as part of their ‘Kiddie Crew’ (aged 9). 
Where I am now: Co-Owner of Bar Magda.

“My dream has always been to have my own restaurant,” Carlo Buenaventura tells me, speaking from the dining room of Bar Magda, the Cross Street venue he co-owns, known for its unique style of contemporary Filipino fare. Growing up in the Philippines, Buenaventura was drawn to food and service from observing the careful ways in which his mother and grandmother would prepare meals for the family. “Food is a big part of our culture in the Philippines,” he tells me. “It’s a means for us to gather and celebrate, whether it’s harvest season or Christmas, there’s always an excuse to have a fiesta of some sort, so that is where my love for hosting people and cooking for others started.” 

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That said, the road to opening Bar Magda was a labour of love, driven by Buenaventura’s determined vision and successful stints at a number of venues around New Zealand. And while the clever operator had initially put nursing in his sights (“I thought I could save some money first then go into hospitality,” he says), it was swapping medical school for a culinary course that set him on the road to restaurant ownership, a path he pursued passionately. 

“The small victories… [were] so valuable and important, and really, they made me understand and love the industry even more.”

After moving to New Zealand, Buenaventura worked in the kitchens of Queenstown’s Crowne Plaza, learning European-style fare from the French chefs there, before moving to Wellington and immersing himself in a more seasonally-driven practice at Matterhorn. He then moved to Auckland to take up a formative post at Orphans Kitchen, where owner Tom Hishon was a huge supporter and introduced him to a number of key people in the industry. It was a role that gave Buenaventura the confidence to embark on his own pop-up ventures, before moving into front-of-house and restaurant management at both Culprit at Gemmayze Street, where he honed the crucial operation skills he would eventually need to make Bar Magda the success it is today. 

For Buenaventura, this varied experience was crucial. “In this industry, every stage, every role will prepare you for your next step,” he says. “I think success in hospitality comes down to finding what you love, setting goals and doing research.” Buenaventura boasts a uniquely dogged way of working, from his attention to detail to his ever-evolving creativity, everything he does is meticulously planned. Hospitality, he tells me, is about the little things. 

“It starts with little things and the small victories, because you’re not going to be able to appreciate the big accomplishments if you can’t be grateful for the everyday wins,” he says. “It took me a while to get there, and for a long time I didn’t feel satisfied unless I was getting closer to owning my restaurant, but actually, all the little things along the way were so valuable and important, and really, they made me understand and love the industry even more.” 

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