From park bench to penthouse

Successful Queenstown developer Kevin Carlin talks to Metropol editor Lynda Papesch about life, lyrics and looking for new frontiers.

Entrepreneurial, entertaining and engaging all describe Kevin Carlin. So does survivor, a powerful descriptive that sums up his traumatic start in life, and a few other ups and downs along the way.

The man behind New Zealand’s first six-star boutique hotel, The Carlin, a $30 million-plus project in Queenstown, Kevin lives in a penthouse atop the hotel. It’s a far cry from the park bench and tent he occupied after fleeing his abusive family home in California, aged 17.

Slim and soft-spoken, he remembers his childhood as tough, physically and emotionally both at home and at school.

“I was small, and shy, and musical so school wasn’t too good,” he explains. “At home, I didn’t get compliments as a child. I got beat — physically beat with a whip — and put down.”

His upbringing and subsequent journey helped to shape Kevin, make him strong and a survivor, he says. A cold metal park bench was his first home-away-from-home, until offered a tent by a friend’s parents. He spent nine months living in that tent, accepting a government grant to attend chef school, and then “upgrading” to a caravan. Determination and dedication paid off and by the time he was 23, Kevin had amassed a $13,000 stake, with which he convinced several investors to help him build a 200-seat restaurant.

Cooking played a major role in starting to build his self-esteem. “Someone came up to me and said my cooking was good. That was my first praise. It was a new emotion, and, as a result, I went to chef school.”

Word of his culinary abilities at the restaurant spread, and eventually Kevin received a call from a friend telling him that the band Van Halen had just fired its chef, and needed a new one.

Within a few hours, he’d impressed the band so much that they referred him to others, including Sting and The Police, Ozzy Osbourne, the late Olivia Newton-John, and John Travolta.

Selling his share of the restaurant, he started Carlin Catering, spending seven years touring with artists and celebrities, before seguing into Carlin Manufacturing, a company building mobile kitchens. A decade later he sold that company also, and retired – in his 30s – to Queenstown.


Retirement didn’t last long. Property development became his new lifestyle, initially in Queenstown, then Christchurch and on Australia’s Gold Coast, although business wasn’t always smooth sailing.

“I’ve gone up and down two or three times, never bankrupt, but I’ve gone from millions of cash in the bank to tight times more than once. I just never give up, and I strive to carry on with a nice lifestyle, and not go back to the tent.”

Kevin readily admits to enjoying the finer things in life. “I’ve always wanted nice things. My first car cost $200, and I lived in the back seat. Now I have a Maserati, a Bentley and a Porsche.

“I am an introvert, so I don’t do parties well,” he confesses.

What he does do well, aside from business, is music.

Kevin is a concert pianist, and a composer, who also plays guitar, drums, Irish whistles and saxophone, and inherited his musical talent from his late father.

In 2003, he composed 14 orchestral pieces, performed by the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, for an album, The Princess of Wales — a musical and pictorial memoir, which reached number 23 on the New Zealand music charts.

The then Prince Charles (now King Charles III) met him at St James Palace, and accepted the album for release. “Music was a chapter in my life, and I still enjoy playing. I see property development and music as equally creative,” he says.

His advice to others looking to succeed

“Success is defined differently by different people. For some it might be a yacht, others to have six homes on the planet. I know if you are creative and motivated, you can progress from a park bench. Pursue your dream and deliver a high standard. That’s what I have strived for and become known for.
Don’t settle for less.”

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  1. October 9, 2022

    You did good man!!!

  2. Athena Turner
    November 11, 2022

    Incredibly talented man . kevin is a true entertainer and anyone who has he pleasure of meeting someone so inspirational is very lucky indeed. This man works hard !!! He also inspires me greatly.

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