Having Got the Experience He Set off to Russia
In some ways he repeated the footsteps of his older brother Bruno, who by that time had already settled down in Moscow, working as a cook in an Italian restaurant.– I, myself, worked in pizzerias in Rome from when I was a schoolboy, learning from the people who, in my opinion, were the top experts, – says Fabio. – Then, having gained the necessary experience, following my brother’s advice, I moved to Moscow too. That was in 1999. And five years later some friends invited me to come out to Vladivostok where I took a job as a pizza chef in the cafe 'Mauro Gianvanni'.
One of Fabio's compatriots had opened his business in an excellent location in the capital of Russia's Primorskiy Krai: the embankment – a favorite leisure spot for locals and visitors. It is always thronged with people here all year round.
The new cafe immediately drew the attention of ordinary citizens, civil servants, and businessmen, who spent their free time there, eating or organizing personal and business meetings. After one of the meals, the Governor of Primorskiy Krai Sergey Darkin asked to meet the cook, who had made such a wonderful pizza. The owner introduced him to Fabio Batrone. And later there was a meeting that the Italians will remember as long as they live: the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had dinner at the restaurant on his visit to Vladivostok. Photographs of these events are now hanging in pride at the pizzeria which the Batrone family opened quite recently in the small city of Artyom.
A Fateful Meeting
It is clear that Fabio Batrone and Olga PFLUG were destined to meet. There could be no other way: they worked together in the pizzeria “Mauro Gianvanni”. When Fabio arrived in Vladivostok, Olga had already mastered the secrets of Italian cuisine from chefs Giuseppe and Marcello. So by the time she met her future husband she could easily make the house special spaghetti, cake or even pies.– We met in the kitchen, – says Olga. – The pizzeria in the cafe had just opened, but all the equipment we needed hadn’t arrived yet. So Fabio just liked to sit down somewhere in a corner and watch the chefs at work. As it turned out, he was watching me most of all...
I myself worked in pizzerias in Rome from when I was a schoolboy, learning from the people who, in my opinion, were the top experts.
– I immediately saw that Olga was a very talented pastry chef – smiles Fabio. – She got a lot of praise. I like to do everything very beautifully myself, and now I saw a very pretty girl and everything she did turned out just great! A month passed, then another, but she paid more attention to her work than to me. I began to show my interest in her, shyly at first. But it was only after a year that I dared to tell her my true feelings. In general, Russian women never give in straight away! (He laughs)– At that time the last thing I wanted to do was start an office romance, so I spent a long time making sure that our relationship could be a serious one, – says Olga. – When I was convinced that it was not a passing infatuation on both sides I agreed to date him. And then wedding bells were ringing. Eighteen months later we had a son Fabrice. Why did we give him that name? Well, the surname Batrone is originally from France, and in the recent Olympics I heard the name of a French athlete that sounded really good. And Fabio agreed with me.
I like to do everything very beautifully myself, and now I saw a very pretty girl and everything she did turned out just great!
The Family Business Plan
According to the couple, the idea of starting their own business came at the same time as the start of their family. They wanted to be independent of an employer and be better off financially. But for a time they continued to work together in Vladivostok, saving up their starting capital.– When we were finally ready to start our own business, we moved to the city of Artyom (it's an hour's drive from Vladivostok). It was because Olga had a small apartment there – says Fabio. – And also we had to follow the rules of the business: Mauro and I had agreed that I would never open a pizzeria anywhere near one of his establishments. We drew up a family business plan where we calculated everything down to the smallest detail: starting from the purchase of an Italian stove to furniture, utensils, and ending with getting food supplies from Italy. At the same time we were looking for a location for our future pizzeria. It turned out that in Artyom there was a plan to build a new shopping mall “Concord”, where we could rent the necessary space. Lucky us!! But at that time we only had around 350,000 rubles (about 11,000 USD). And we needed at least twice as much... Here we were saved by Olga's mother, who took out a loan for the amount we needed. After that my wife registered as a private entrepreneur, and we were on the way!
Doubts, Problems and...Success!
– Fabio had confidence in our strength and abilities, but I was terribly worried – adds Olga. – No, I wasn't afraid that we wouldn't be able to make a quality product. After all, we were both professional cooks and really loved our jobs! But you never know what difficulties might arise. For example, there were no setbacks with the paperwork. And we thought up the design of the restaurant ourselves in the Italian style, we put the tables and chairs in, made it cozy. But then the delivery of the special electric oven (it cost us 62,000 rubles – about 2,000 USD) dragged on for six weeks. And after only two weeks the owner of the building was asking us to pay the rent. That's when I was overcome by doubts: what if no one comes to our pizzeria? And we'll just be standing around without any customers? And then suddenly our new oven broke down, but as it was still under warranty we exchanged it, but for the time being we had to find something similar...
After a couple of months our pizzeria started to make a profit, and after six months we had completely paid off our loan!
– As it turned out, people actually couldn’t wait for the café to open! A lot of people were peering in, wondering when they would finally be able to taste real Italian pizza! – says Fabio, joining in the conversation. – And we didn't disappoint them. And last spring the pizzeria had its first customers. And there were more and more of them every day! At first there were some inspections of our cafe by officials from immigration, the fire department and other services, but we had all the papers in order – so they couldn't say anything to us! And we didn't give any bribes. And neither were there any “raids” on us, no racket. People say that this kind of thing was quite common in the 90s, but by this time, thank God, it had already stopped. And as for the security of the business, that was organized very reliably according to the terms of the lease by the shopping center director Nikolai Rumyantsev. And we continue to work with him. After a couple of months our pizzeria started to make a profit, and after six months we had completely paid off our loan! After this, the money we earned was spent on buying paintings, interior decoration, equipping the kitchen, and widening the range of dishes. And it turned out – even to the Far East of Russia! – that it was easy to order deliveries from Italy of the products we needed, like mozzarella cheese, Parma ham, tomatoes, things that a real pizza just can’t do without. There is a company in Vladivostok that can get anything you want.
In a country like Russia it is much easier to open a business than in Italy, where this market niche has been long occupied by other families.
After a year in business we expanded from 95 square meters to 140. We added a children's dining room to the main restaurant, as we knew that on the floor above in the same shopping center there was a play park for kids, where families would come from all over the city. Straight away the number of customers shot up! And we expanded our team too: we now have nine assistants working for us. And Olga continues to perfect her confectionary skills. Her sweet desserts and morning pastries (buns with apple and cinnamon like puffs) are in special demand. We've already built up a regular clientele. And a lot of people like to order cakes from us for family celebrations and weddings. For every kilogram of finished product, we take about 400 rubles (about 13 USD), which is no more expensive than the competition.
Our profits have become larger, and we were recently able to buy a more spacious apartment and a nice car. In general, things are going well.
Confidence in the Future
After leaving the train at Artyom, the author asked the first random locals whether they had heard about an Italian cafe in their city. And Sergey Kasyanov, a student of the Far Eastern Federal University, answered that he had already been there several times. He said that he liked the atmosphere, the furnishings, the restaurant decor, and the service. And the house special “Fabio Pizza”, which seems to be made up of six different pizzas – is just yummy!– I study in Vladivostok and so I often drop in such places there. They are tasty, comfortable, good places. But the one we have here is even better! – Sergey assured me, and with such enthusiasm it is as if he was talking about his own pizzeria! And he is far from being the only admirer of Fabio and Olga's family business. Here are a couple of the many entries in their guestbook:“We've been to Italy, but we didn't see anything as delicious there. The “capesanti funghi” (hot dish of scallops, mushrooms and cream – Author) is simply divine! Thank you Fabio!”“Everything is wonderful. We could never imagine that there would be a place like this in Artyom. Excellent service! “
According to Fabio, in a country like Russia today it is much easier to open a business than, for example, in Italy, where this market niche has been long occupied by other families. Here there is a huge territory and the economic opportunities are huge too.
– And my big brother is not thinking about returning home either – says Fabio. – He has moved from Moscow to Voronezh – he's got a residence permit and is head chef in a restaurant. And here in Primorye, I know a lot of my compatriots who are running their own businesses, including family ones. It's a dream for many people – to have your own cafe, where your spouse and children are your faithful assistants. Then they can be close by not only when you're vacationing, but also when you're working. Isn't it great? By the way, I recently got an offer to work in Thailand as a chef, and they were offering excellent terms. But why should I go to a different country when my family and business are here in Artyom? We’ll get stronger and might well open a second pizzeria. Now we have confidence in the future!