Morgan Walsh, restaurateur

A lot of people think that everything is about money, success and ego, but this is my heart, it's my passion, it's my dream.

When Morgan Walsh first came to the Gold Coast from Auckland 11 years ago, it was a vastly different place to what it is now. After working in kitchens and on the floor of some of the city’s most well-known establishments, she decided it was time to venture out on her own. Almost three years ago, Morgan and her partner Jess took the plunge and created Bonita Bonita – and the Gold Coast immediately fell in love with modern Mexican. Just last year, the duo opened the popular BonBon Bar right next door. Now, Morgan is at the helm of two of the city’s most popular venues, yet she remains incredibly humble, focussed and passionate about the industry that she has been involved in from such a young age. She’s a down-to-earth, level-headed human who continues to find the motivation to keep innovative and stand out in the increasingly competitive Gold Coast dining scene. We had a chat to Morgan about where it all began, what challenges her, and just how much wine is actually in her fridge.

Let’s take it back a bit. When was that lightbulb moment when you realised that you wanted to start Bonita Bonita?
I guess it’s because I have been in this industry my whole life, so I kind of just fell into it. I think you get to a point where you want to do your own thing. I had been working at Commune for a few years and realised that I was really good both in the kitchen and on the floor. We went on a trip around America and we ate at some really great modern Mexican establishments, and there was one in New York that we went to that made me think that there was nothing like this back on the Gold Coast – so we came back and started looking around for the perfect little spot. We saw this rundown little complex which no one else really liked, but it really suited our style. It was dark, a little big dingy and off the beaten track, and it was everything I wanted in a place. This is like a creative outlet for me.

What was your very first job?
Working for my parents in their cafe doing dishes. Then I learned how to make coffee and did a bit of barista work. Mum and Dad always had little cafes in New Zealand and so that’s where it all came from. Though, I never thought i’d end up in this industry, I never enjoyed it as a kid and I think I just realised that I was good at it, and I liked the creative element of cooking.

What’s your earliest memory of food?
Coming from a big Maori family in New Zealand, we like to eat. So, all of our gatherings were about food, drinks and good times. Some of my fondest memories as a kid would be having those big family gatherings where there were copious amounts of food. Food is what brings people together.

What’s the most challenging part of what you do?
Staff. Going into this three years ago, I didn’t realise how hard it is to manage people. If you have 30 different people working for you, you realise that everyone views things very differently.  Sometimes I’m a mother, a counsellor or a best friend. Everyone requires different things from you as a boss, and I think I underestimated that to start with. So that’s been a huge learning curve. It comes down to being able to relate to people and never thinking that being a boss makes you bigger or better than anyone else. A lot of people think that everything is about money, success and ego, but this is my heart, it’s my passion, it’s my dream. We’re very fortunate to have an awesome team, it’s a family.

On the flip-side, what is the most rewarding part?
The staff! Haha. When you form a really great group of people and you’re all striving for the same thing, and you reach goals together, you can see that everyone is happy. That’s when it’s all worthwhile. Seeing returning customers and seeing the restaurant busy is a really nice feeling … to know when people love what you do – well, that’s when you get the warm fuzzies.

Are there plans in the pipeline?
I have too many plans! I find that a lot of people on the Gold Coast kind of tend to follow the trends, whereas I want to be doing something that no one else is doing. So, we’ll see. Watch this space.

Give us your thoughts on how the Gold Coast dining scene has progressed?
It’s been crazy. It’s an exciting time to be part of this industry. When I first moved here 11 years ago, you were really limited with your options of where to go. In the past three years especially since doing Bonita Bonita, there’s been huge growth in restaurants, bars and cafes on the Gold Coast – it’s great in that it makes things more competitive. You always have to keep pushing and striving to be better. You really need to make sure you’re on your A-game, because people have so many options now. We always use everything as motivation to do better and be better and grow as much as we can.

Owning and running two venues is tough work. How do you stay motivated and inspired?
I guess you have to mix things up for yourself. Little things like our menu changes, growing the business (putting BonBon bar next door) and changing our styles. You’ve got to be able to adapt. What we were doing three years ago, isn’t necessarily what people want now. I never really get bored because I know there is so much for me to do. We’re always trying to keep things fresh and be creative and stay relevant.

Tell us, what will you always find in your fridge at home?
Um, our fridge at home is broken. However! When it was working, we generally had copious amounts of wine and cheese. If cheese didn’t make you fat it would be amazing. Oh, and there’s often leftover pasta in there too.

Lastly, enlighten us with some words of wisdom.
Oh no, I’m under pressure now … I think it would be staying true to yourself and always do something that makes you happy. Over time you realise that as long as you’re doing something that makes you happy and that you’re proud of, then you don’t have to worry about what everyone else thinks. So, that’s it – do something that makes you happy. And drink lots of wine.


Grab a coffee …  Elk or Commune. Oh, and there’s a cute little new place around the corner near The Borrowed Nursery called KoKo that does good coffee.
Enjoy breakfast …  Elk again, and Canteen – I like places that have a distinct style in their food, and I like that Canteen has a middle eastern approach. Oh, and The Yard at Nobby is great too.
Have a drink …  A Negroni at Franc’s Deli in Broadbeach. We love what they do there. A lot of little places like that just don’t get recognised. They might not appeal to the masses but we have a huge appreciation for what they do.


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