Tell us a bit about the history of your business:
We first opened a deli in East Sheen in 1991. It was a family-run Italian delicatessen specialising in Italian products, the kind you don't readily find in the supermarkets and a fair range of wines.
Eight years ago we re-branded when my nephew Fabio joined the business following time as a chef with Gary Rhodes at Tower 42 and Thackerays in Tunbridge. Fabio came in to develop the restaurant side of the business, but we also used his arrival to strengthen up the deli presence, taking the wine list up to 200 from all regions of Italy and sourced real artisan Italian products. We now have over a 1,000 products on sale.
We added a small 36-cover eatery at East Sheen and when that proved successful we went on to open a second site in Putney and then a new one each year.
Last year we acquired an importing and distributing company and now bring in products from far and wide in Italy. The company used to supply some of the big department stores in London and prestigious restaurants, so we have access to quality, authentic products.
I think where we differ from other delicatessen-restaurants is our authenticity. We are truly authentic in that we grow it (the company sources olive oil from a family-run grove), we import it, distribute it and sell it. We do the Full Monty as it were.
How do you retain your family values as you grow?
At present my job is easy, because Italy's economy is in a bad state, a lot of people we recruit are from Italy. A cousin will call about a job and we can offer one. It's not that we only recruit from Italy, but there is an abundance of skilled people from Italy who know the product, they know what they are talking about. When they come over we then put them through a training process that teaches them about service in the UK.
We have managed to retain that family-focus so far with family members being involved in the management. My son and now my daughter are on board.
The target we have is 10 sites - we're in the process for negotiating our eighth site in the Tower Bridge area so we can certainly carry it to 10. We'd like to take it to 20, but then we'll have to suck it and see as far as only keeping it within the family is concerned.
When it comes to scalability, but retaining that family-feel I think what's important is that the family values are so strong that when it comes to a point that we have to take in other resources this can be translated into a company mission that can be carried over, so where new people are coming in they will be trained under this core belief and be integral to the future success.
Hospitality businesses are often told to diversify to survive. You've done this successfully, what's been the secret?:
We hung onto our core business which was the delicatessen and strengthened it with the restaurants and importing company. We've looked at how we appeal to different people: We have the Valentina deli, the Valentina coffee shop, the Valentina for ladies that do lunch, for the evening and online sales. Out of one business we've managed to create maybe six or seven different avenues which all help to bring in revenue to hold the whole thing up.
We like to stay ahead and reinvent ourselves but it's also about being creative with what you have already. We've held events with opera singers and jazz musicians to bring people in. You've got to be a bit creative. At the end of the day, anybody can cook a plate of pasta, it's just about making your plate of pasta more interesting than the guy next door.
I would say to others, if you're just relying on lunchtime and evening trade, that's limiting because people are on tight budgets and you're hanging your hopes on very few hooks. When you diversify, as we've done, you spread that risk and give people more reason to come in and use you.