The dining and entertainment precinct in Remuera is rapidly becoming the domain of local restaurateurs Buki Prekazi and Blerta Rakovica.
This month marks three years since they opened Remuera Local Cafe Bistro (which they've since expanded to include Laneway bar downstairs) and they've recently embarked on a new 'family dining' venture in the Village Green.
How did two friends end up owning a restaurant together?
Blerta: My husband Labi and I are both passionate about food and wine, so when another friend mentioned Pyrenees (now The Local) was for sale, it made perfect sense to go into it with Buki. He's been in the hospitality trade for as long as I've known him!
Buki: When I came back from Europe I was looking for a place to buy... we all decided Pyrenees had great potential. It was truly a case of right place, right area, right time.
Where are you both from originally, and what brought you to New Zealand?
Blerta: We both come from Kosovo, and I moved here in 1999 to be with my dad's family, who have been here since the 1950s. Buki came here a few years before me... but we only met here in Auckland about 15 years ago.
Tell us about your new restaurant, Artusi Cucina. What is your vision for it?
Buki: It has always been my dream to open an Italian restaurant. Italian food is one of the most edible, and we do it well - my background is in French and Italian cooking. The location of Artusi down in the Village Green means quiet, peaceful indoor or outdoor dining. And it's the complete antithesis to fine-dining; think comfort food and family gatherings, using local, organic produce.
What does the name mean?
Buki: Pellegrino Artusi was a famous Italian writer who wrote a very inspirational book about "the art of eating well" and we've based our entire restaurant around this concept. And of course "cucina" means kitchen.
Do you both have hospitality backgrounds?
Blerta: I didn't! I've worked as a waitress during uni breaks, but nothing like this. I actually trained in graphic design and fine arts. Of course now I'm an expert...
Buki: I started out as a kitchenhand when I was 15 and worked my way through Europe and then New Zealand, both as a chef and a restaurant manager. I had a successful partnership with well-known Auckland restaurateur Tony Matches at Villa d'Vine, and it was really his passion for the industry that fuelled my desire to open my own eatery.
Do you both look after different aspects of the business, or is it all done jointly?
Blerta: We are responsible for different areas of the business, but any decisions we make are run past each other first.
You now have three restaurants/bars in Remuera. How will you divide yourselves between them so customers still get an intimate, local experience?
Blerta: Planning, time management and lots of help from our staff!
And how on earth do you manage to fit partners and children into this mix?
Blerta: Our lives run through a roster, which we've tweaked over the years, and family time is included! People say hospitality is hard on families, but I disagree. We have flexible lives through the businesses and plenty of time for family fun.
What is the best/most memorable meal you've ever had?
Buki: One of Tony Matches' meals that we do at Artusi. Hare ravioli stuffed with smoked eggplant and mascarpone.
Blerta: An eye fillet with cafe de Paris coupled with duck fat fries... mmm-mmmmm!
What are you planning next in Remuera, or have you got enough on your plate?
Blerta: Thanks to our reputation, opportunities are always being offered to us. But we just want to make sure we get Artusi right first, then take stock. Watch this space...!
What do you like most about working in Remuera?
Buki: Living life local. It's as simple as that!
Blerta: The people, living two minutes away from work, the kids going to the local school... I couldn't be happier.
The Village Green, 415 Remuera Road
Ph: 09 522 9196 www.artusicucina.co.nz
Photos by Vanita Andrews and words by Fiona Wilson