Noel Cimadom & Kim Smythe
Italian-born Noel Cimadom (36) met Kiwi Kim Smythe (45) in Munich 12 years ago. Then a barman and model, the Mount-based couple are now a powerhouse husband-and-wife team.
Italian-born Noel Cimadom (36) met Kiwi Kim Smythe (45) in Munich 12 years ago. Then a barman and model, now they're a powerhouse husband-and-wife team that has opened Alpino in Cambridge and the Mount, and Tauranga's Clarence Bistro & Hotel. They have two children, Raphael (10) and Jacinta (6).
Kim used to always come to our bar, Bar Comercial, on Sunday afternoons after walking her dog in the park with her partner. They just split up, kind of, but they still walked the dog together. She came and sat at the bar and ordered a pizza called salsiccia e radicchio, which we have now at the Mount — it’s radicchio and Italian pork and fennel sausage. She asked me for chilli oil, and I said, ‘Oh, you like it spicy’. That was the moment.
Her family is originally from Cambridge. I loved the idea of getting out of Munich. I think her father sold it to me when we were here visiting, always taking me out on the boat fishing. I didn’t really know what I was in for, but I really enjoyed that lifestyle. So we moved to Cambridge because it was just starting to evolve. Thank goodness we did — that’s where we started Alpino six years ago.
I think we’re complete opposites. The only thing we’re similar in is we’re impulsive business-wise. That’s how we ended up with all this now.
She’s very sensitive, and creative — that’s what she does in our business. She can look at a room and put a concept together. We did the revamp of [Cambridge] Alpino last year, in April, and for me the goal was to come up with a concept easy to turn around, so we don’t have to close the restaurant for too long. About three days before opening, Kim said, ‘I’m going to distress this wall and bring it back to the old brick’. I swallowed and said, ‘No don’t do that; don’t start anything you can’t finish.’ She insisted and she did it. She completely distressed the whole wall, which is 12-metres long and four-metres high, by herself. Made a huge mess as usual, but everyone who walks into Alpino talks about that wall.
We still live in Cambridge. We’ve got a little batch at the Mount, so I spend four nights here and the rest at home. The family comes over Friday to Sunday. I think by doing this split we actually have more quality time than we ever had, because I actually take days off, which I haven’t done prior to last year.
I would say 95 per cent of people would have split up after all we’ve been through business-wise and in our private life. I think those challenges made us who we are now; grounded us. We have a son with Down syndrome who’s 10. Having Raffi alone is a full-time job and a challenge. We’re still biting and chewing through, and we always come out with a smile on the other end.
I have a huge amount of respect for Noel. He’s quite pedantic, which makes him good at what he does. He really cares about the people that work for us. He’s really good at getting in people’s head and inspiring them and helping them to find their strength.
He’s a very sweet person, very honest. Because of our age difference, I got asked once, ‘Aren’t you afraid he’s going to run off with some other woman?’ and I said, ‘Oh no, he’s like my good labrador, he’s completely loyal’.
He’s thrown himself in the deep end being quite a young father as well. He was 25 when Raffi was born. Raffi has Down syndrome and that was a huge journey for both of us. It’s also a great gift because we have this thing that keeps us real. That sort of thing can humble you, knowing how beautiful it is when the sun’s shining.
We almost lost Raffi to pneumonia a couple of years in, once we’d moved here. I remember when Raffi was rushed to the emergency department. I said to Noel, I’m going to go now, because if I stay, I’m scared we’re going to lose him. If I stay then it’s telling the universe, or God, or whatever, that I don’t have absolute blind faith that we can overcome this… I trusted Noel so much, and I knew Noel had it.
It must be that when you’ve almost lost a child, you can’t be scared of anything. So you get a bit invincible, a bit cocky, and be like, let’s just do that over at the Mount, and let’s take on the whole building rather than a quarter of it.
Noel will just stick his head down and keep on going. We had a chef drop out on a Friday night, 120 bookings, and Noel just got in the kitchen and he did it. He cooked in the kitchen while we were waiting for another chef to come out from Europe.
We just tend to jump on things because they have to be done and we’re really passionate. I got a quote from a gardener for $20,000 to do the [Clarence Bistro & Hotel] gardens and I was like, I’ll do the damn gardens, I’ll get my hands dirty'. We just put blinkers on and go for the light at the end of the tunnel.
As told to Casey Vassallo
Photography by ilk