You’ve managed to open numerous restaurants and you’re only 25, how are you funding this expansion?
I started working in this industry when I was 19 – six years ago. My expansion comes out of the appreciation that some investors have showed by believing in the business I have developed so far. Many factors contribute to success. The location, the service, and quality are the main ingredients of my recipe. Hard work and humility are also important, and all these factors will usually reap rewards.
You’re opening Osteria Napoletana on the site of Piccola Cucina, which you also ran. Why are you making this change?
The business known as Piccola Cucina was shut down because of a structural issue. The gas supply in the building suddenly ceased, literally overnight, and it took more than a year to reactivate it with the local authority. Piccola Cucina used to trade well, but with no gas supply we couldn’t do much, unfortunately. I then decided to start a new concept on the wave of the success at Osteria Romana.
London is not short of premium Italian restaurants, so what sets your brand apart?
There are many Italian restaurants in London but how Italian are they, actually? I think there is a lack of authentic Italian restaurants. We invest in quality, above all else.
You opened Piccola Cucina in 2014, how has the London restaurant scene changed since then in your opinion?
I think it’s becoming more and more difficult. Human resources are fewer than they used to be in 2014 and finding qualified staff is not easy at all. Still, I think the biggest issue affecting the restaurant business is the ‘lease-agreement’ system, which is based on rent reviews at five-year intervals. Meanwhile rents have tripled since 2014. Then there’s the progressive increase of business rates, which would never exist in other countries where I work and I think should be revised since it has nothing to do with the business performance.
Do you foresee Brexit having a significant impact on your business, for example to the importing of goods, given that you bring in ingredients sourced Italy?
It is really difficult to foresee any possible clear consequences, in times of such uncertainty. Nonetheless, since they are already talking about a possible future customs union despite Brexit and therefore, although they might actually leave the EU, it is reasonable to assume that it might not affect our business significantly. No matter what the UK decides, there is an understanding of the importance of international trade and how deeply it has influenced its citizens preferences in terms of goods and services.
You say you want to supply Santo Mare with fresh fish caught from the Mediterranean, how are you handling the logistics of this and do you believe it is a sustainable model?
Yes, I think it is a bearable and logistically feasible model, as long as we keep on sending the fish by plane. Customers are happy to pay a premium if they can have something special which cannot be found anywhere else.
You say you have further plans for the Osteria concept, so what other areas of Italian cuisine are you specifically interested to bring to the UK?
Local traditional cuisine is very rich. It is possible to find completely different dishes in different areas of Italy and they are all original. As we know now, Italian cuisine doesn’t only consist of pizza and pasta, and I am very glad I can revalue our traditional ‘mothers’ cuisine, no matter what part of Italy it comes from. There is something special everywhere in Italy, beyond the common stereotypes.