Born in Castellammare del Golfo in Sicily, Bonventre emigrated to New York with his family. The family settled in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, a stronghold of immigrants from their village. Bonventre and his brother Vito Bonventre soon joined the local Castellammarese criminal organization, the precursor of the modern Bonanno crime family. Boss Cola Schiro ran the organization until 1930, when he was forced out by Salvatore Maranzano. Bonventre was the uncle of family founder Joseph Bonanno, who himself immigrated to New York City in 1924. Bonventre's nephews were Joseph Profaci, the future founder of the Profaci crime family and Cesare Bonventre. Bonventre married Caterina Vitale, but it is unknown if they had any children.
With the end of the Castellammarese War, a major conflict between the Sicilian clans in New York, Bonanno became boss of the reorganized Bonanno family and Bonventre became a caporegime, the captain of a crew of mobsters. That same year, Bonanno and Bonventre purchased a dairy farm near Middletown, New York in the Catskill Mountains. The farm's main product was mozzarella cheese; Bonanno and Bonventre used their mob influence to eventually dominate the production of this cheese in New York State, Wisconsin, and Vermont. Bonventre's other business ventures included a garment factory in Brooklyn. At some point, Bonventre was promoted to family underboss, directly under Bonanno.