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High-flyer Mauro Balzarini with his wife, Giovanna Boventi Faroni at their new Italian eatery in Queenstown

Queenstown continues to attract its share of multi-millionaire entrepreneurs.  One such is Italian Mauro Balzarini, who was formerly Australia’s largest livestock exporter.  He’s now helping his wife run a new pizza and pasta place, which PHILIP CHANDLER visited last week for a chat – and to sample some of their imported Italian wine and cheese

AN Italian who was formerly an Australian-based shipping and livestock magnate has
joined Queenstown’s restaurant scene.

Mauro Balzarini, whose company, Wellard, made him a fortune before it struck rough waters, is helping his wife, Giovanna Boventi Faroni, run her Italian pizza and pasta joint, Giovi, which opened at Remarkables Park last month.

As if running a restaurant isn’t hard enough during this Covid-19 pandemic, he and his wife are also worried sick about their families — including his 90-year-old dad — living at the epicentre of the world’s worst outbreak (see below).

Balzarini, 58, says he fell in love with Queenstown at first sight when coming here on a business trip, partly because it reminded him of the ski resort he was born in.

He bought a 7.4-hectare plot with a large house at Speargrass Flat for $5.5 million, in ‘09.

When seeking Overseas Investment Office approval to buy a neighbouring 4.5ha property, he donated $45,000 to the Queenstown Trails Trust.

‘‘I like walking, running and biking, so I’m also investing in myself,’’ he told Mountain Scene at the time.

Balzarini, whose father had started a shipping company called Siba, took over the family
business, renamed Wellard.

He moved to Perth and ran the company, which became Australia’s largest live animal
exporter, from 2004 till last year.

As a naval architect, he also designed its purpose-built ships.

Balzarini says he listed Wellard in 2015 — when it had a market capitalisation of $A556m — to expand into the China market, however, as he puts it, ‘‘we had some issues’’, and he eventually got out, though not before selling his family’s Perth mansion for $A13.7m, along with some farmland.

He then shifted his family, including three children, to their Queenstown home — ‘‘I always
dreamt of living here’’.

He says their restaurant stems from his wife’s passion for Italian food — she imports wine from her family’s vineyard, Montina, and cheeses and other products through her family’s meat and food business.

‘‘I think the customers appreciate Giovanna’s work, she really doesn’t compromise on
quality.’’

As people come to appreciate her offering, Balzarini says they’re keen to expand to other locations like the Queenstown CBD.

Meanwhile, he’s planning to get back into livestock exporting with new-generation vessels he’s designed, focused on significantly improving animal welfare and environmental performance.

He acknowledges that animal shipments have attracted controversy, but says there’ve been good operators, like Wellard, and bad ones.

Balzarini’s also lapping up Queenstown’s outdoors lifestyle.

A one-time professional motorcycle enduro rider — his last race was in Taupo — he’s
nowadays a keen Ducati rider and mountain biker.

This month he completed his fourth Motatapu mountain bike race from Wanaka to Arrowtown.

‘‘I was 15 minutes faster than the first one I did — like a good wine, the older I get, the better I get.’’

Eye of the storm

MAURO Balzarini and his wife Giovanna aren’t getting a lot of sleep right now.

That’s because through the night they’re in regular Skype contact with their families in
Covid-19-ravaged Italy, where more than 10,000 people have died so far.

‘‘Giovanna’s father and mother and my father, 90, all live in Brescia, which is the epicentre now, and the region most hit by the virus.

‘‘So far they are all good but obviously worried and exhausted by the fact they have been locked in for about 20 days.

‘‘This is the only way to protect people.”

Balzarini says he’s surprised, too, that schools here remained open as long as they did — his three children all attend Wakatipu High.

He feels that if Italy had been locked down earlier, thousands of lives could have
been saved.

scoop@scene.co.nz