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Bresolin_Bros-0001I’m talk­ing to Lorenzo and Leonardo Bresolin at Duke Carvell’s, their Swan Lane ‘empori­um’, per­fectly posi­tioned to catch the foot traffic between Mari­on and Cuba streets.

It’s a bril­liant spot, an after­noon sun-trap, and long a favour­ite of mine for a day­time cof­fee. It is also, I reck­on, just about the nicest first-date spot in the city, as long as you can per­suade your com­pan­ion to stop star­ing at the extra­vag­antly mous­ta­chioed Lorenzo shim­my­ing his way around the tables, or the equally hand­some but more restrained Leonardo quiet and watch­ful from behind the bar. Listen­ing back to the recor­ded inter­view the fol­low­ing day, not only was I often unable to dis­tin­guish which of the two broth­ers was speak­ing, it was often a case of one speak­ing and the oth­er fin­ish­ing his sen­tence for him.

I used to live just over the road, in the Access Radio build­ing. And I’d come in here for a glass of wine when it was the old Imbibe. I loved it. There was the Met Shop next door — which we still miss — and then there was this bar, facing out onto a car park, and it was bril­liant. It changed the char­ac­ter of this little area. Sud­denly it wasn’t just the car park, and a foot­path to the back of a post office… it was a place you wanted to go. I used to dream about how much I’d like a space like this, about how the right place can trans­form everything around it.”

By any stand­ards, the boys are suc­cess­ful res­taur­at­eurs. Their philo­sophy — the only way they know how to do things really — is to be present, to be hands on, and to lead from the front.

You have to be there. You can’t just show up at the end of the night and col­lect the money. Your staff have to know that you do what they do. They see you tak­ing out the rub­bish at the end of the night, and they know you know their jobs. It’s not about ‘keep­ing an eye’, it’s about cre­at­ing a place that you want to be. There’s that old rule about open­ing places you your­self want to be a guest at, well I reck­on we take it a step fur­ther, we open places that we want to be employ­ees at. And if you get that right, you attract the people you want to be with… and everything else comes from that.”

We’re not chefs. I’m in awe of the guys we have in our kit­chens. Some nights when it’s pump­ing in there, and there’s good food fly­ing out, and the pressure’s on, they just get bet­ter and bet­ter. It’s incred­ible. We couldn’t ever thank them enough, or respect them enough, or look after them enough. I mean, we’ll cook at home for fam­ily and friends. There’s noth­ing I like more than hav­ing ten people over for din­ner and mak­ing sure they have the best time. But our guys… they can do that for 50 people they haven’t met. It’s awe-inspir­ing, truly.”

We talk for an hour. There’s strong espresso, and a hot streak of after­noon sun­light dan­cing around the table. The boys both have piles of paper­work in front of them — accounts, sketches, notes for menus — but they are still totally engaged in the con­ver­sa­tion. I appre­ci­ate that. It is an unusu­al amount of focus from two young and very busy men.

When the whole thing is work­ing like it should, when the kit­chen are just pump­ing out amaz­ing food that you can be so proud of, and the whole crew are click­ing, and someone comes up to you at the end of the night and says, ‘That per­son… they were amaz­ing’, and they’re talk­ing about someone who’s new or someone you’ve worked with for years — it doesn’t mat­ter — it’s very hum­bling. And the thing is, oth­er jobs, oth­er voca­tions, people can go years without being singled out for praise — God, some res­taur­ants are like that too — but in our places, they’re being told all night that they’re fant­ast­ic. Because they are, and because some­thing about these places lends itself to that. No oth­er job is like that I think. That’s why people get addicted to hospo — to the career.”


You can’t grow up Itali­an without a close rela­tion­ship with the kitchen.”[/quote]


And there is a new res­taur­ant to build and open. By the time you read this it may already have happened. But we’re talk­ing in the first week of Feb­ru­ary, and the place looks — in Leonardo’s words — “like a build­ing site in a stu­dent flat”.


The place’ is the build­ing on the corner of Wil­lis Street and Karo Drive. To a gen­er­a­tion of Wel­ling­to­ni­ans it will always be the site of the ori­gin­al Bar Bodega. I once ren­ted an old two-storey pile across the road, and I knew that bar and its Gis­borne Gold all too well. The first writ­ing I was ever paid for was piece in the Even­ing Post, arguing that the His­tor­ic Places Trust should be pre­serving the old stables that housed the bar, and not just the shops that fron­ted onto Wil­lis Street.

That fight was lost, of course. Noth­ing that requires a sense of humour ever makes it past a bur­eau­cracy. But at least what’s left of the build­ing is being used again. The new res­taur­ant prom­ises to be the flag­ship of the group.

There will be dif­fer­ent areas, dif­fer­ent din­ing rooms, a sep­ar­ate bar, a court­yard… I guess we’re doing our Il Casino.”

The boys, as if you didn’t know this, are the sons of Remiro Bresolin — ‘Wellington’s most fam­ous Itali­an’, as someone once dubbed him — who came here as a young man and star­ted a series of res­taur­ants. Il Casino was his castle, and with the fam­ily he brought out from Venice, and the fam­il­ies he foun­ded here, he ran it for 30 years.

Paps met a Kiwi girl in Lon­don, and he chased her all the way to New Zea­l­and. The affair didn’t work out, but he stayed. When he got here he was an artist, and he star­ted teach­ing art in Auck­land at first. But he came to Wel­ling­ton to have a look around, and he fell in love with the place. It must have been a sunny day, eh? He had a dif­fer­ent name too — an artist’s name — when he arrived he still called him­self Merko…

He set up the first pizza joint in town, and then he met Faith. She was the one who con­ver­ted the old toi­lets in Cam­bridge Ter­race into a res­taur­ant. They mar­ried, and here we are.

He lived in Wel­ling­ton nearly all his life, but when he said ‘home’ it was always Italy. As soon as he could afford to, he went back there for a month every year, and he took us with him. It’s the well-spring, y’know?”

There is a break; a phone call that has to be returned. I take a moment to walk out­side in the sun, and look up and down this little sliv­er of Wel­ling­ton. The build­ing that houses Duke Carvell’s is an ana­chron­ism, and a gem. The tables out­side are packed with a happy, chat­ter­ing lunch­time crowd. The women all look suc­cess­ful and dynam­ic, the men are all beau­ti­fully dressed. I love this place.

Serving good food and good booze is rel­at­ively easy,” says Lorenzo, as we resume. “There’s a lot of places that can do that. But the funny thing is, a lot of places that served great food and great booze, they’re not even here any­more. So I say it’s more than that. You’ve got to bring people home, y’know. You’ve got to bring them into your home and give them a great time. You’ve got to give them exactly the time they want, and then you’ve got to add some­thing on top of that. So that when they leave, they’ve had everything they came for, but some­thing else they might not even have known they wanted. And that can be as simple as great ser­vice, or a twist that the kit­chen has put on some­thing, or just a slice of the atmo­sphere. It’s great to live up to their expect­a­tions, but if you can exceed them, that’s what people come back for, and that’s what they’ll tell their friends and their col­leagues about. And of course then, their expect­a­tions are even high­er next time, so we have to exceed them all over again. That’s the whole game.”

I’m nearly pack­ing to leave when I notice the tat­too Leonardo has on his upper arm. It is of Remiro’s sig­na­ture, as bold and flam­boy­ant as you could wish.

When he passed, I wanted to do some­thing to hon­our him, and this felt right. But, also, he hated tat­toos, so I get to have a laugh at him too. I think he would have liked both sides of that.”

Lorenzo laughs hard at this too, as though he is also hear­ing the story for the first time.

I was back there about ten years ago, in Venice, see­ing the fam­ily, work­ing at the old pizza place. I’d been there about two weeks, and I’m head­ing to the tobac­con­ist around the corner — the loc­al tobac­con­ist, been there for gen­er­a­tions — and the woman behind the counter — she’s been watch­ing me, she’s got red hair, must be about 60 — she says to me, ‘Tu sei il figlio di Merko?’ (‘You are the son of Merko?’) — and I tell her that I am. And she just says ‘This I know’. Thirty years later, she’s seen me walk­ing along, and she’s recog­nised the old man’s moves, y’know?

So I go home and I tell my uncle, and he roars with laughter. And he says ‘Oh yes, la test­arossa (the red­head)… he broke some hearts your Papa did.’

And I could just see it, y’know? The beau­ti­ful 19-year-old red­head work­ing at her mama’s shop, and the young guy from around the way, and people live and die, but noth­ing has really changed. And that’s Europe, a whole world played out on a street corner. I think part of Paps nev­er left that. That’s what he tried to build here. We’re just car­ry­ing on.”


Graeme Tuckett

Graeme lives on the Kapiti Coast. He fits bouts of writing, broadcasting and business ownership between his many and varied leisure activities.

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