Owner and Founder at Doppiozero - Italian Pasta Atelier
Based in Wandsworth Borough, London, United Kingdom.
SEH: Tell us a little bit about your background Silvia...
I think, my background is quite different actually for a caterer – with higher education in Financial Economics and an MBA my career experience of over 15 years to date is in banking actually. It’s taken me to work and live in Milan, Dublin and now London.
I moved to London in 2012 as my family relocated due to work commitments.
SEH: So, am I right in thinking that a motive for starting this catering business was a means of achieving a better work life balance for family?
No. I have always had a genuine passion for cooking.
You might say it is a family tradition in Italy, typically among the women. In that culture, Grandma tends to live with the family and this was the case for me.
My Grandma actually used to tell me that she used to live only to do three things: go to church, do grocery shopping and also to cook for me! She would simply ask me, “...what do you want for lunch or dinner my darling?
Do you want some ravioli, gnocchi or tagliatelle?” All handmade, of course. So, really I learned the expertise of homemade Italian cooking from my grandma and also from my mom. Totally authentic.
All ingredients were fresh, nothing frozen, no processed sauces everything was from scratch, so very time intensive as you can imagine.
These are the principles which I have adopted in founding my London based Italian catering business, Doppiozero, which I launched in 2013.
SEH: Tell me about your start up journey...what were your first considerations?
In starting up, I built upon the foundations of the old traditional Italian culinary values. You could call it artisanal food. I firstly began with a wide range of menu options, mostly based on a variety of fresh handmade pasta dishes, but with time I have opted to narrow down the scope.
Lasagne was my main focus initially. I chose this because it would be familiar to the palate of my native English customers and guests, although admittedly the authenticity of my work has led to me acquiring approximately 95% Italian born customers, albeit here in London.
The struggle I had initially was trying to break a market which comparatively catered frozen goods to consumers, who when evaluating my product would typically see a supermarket Lasagne as a like-for-like substitute.
SEH: Excuse my ignorance, but what exactly is the difference?
Well with my Lasagne, for example...all my pasta is made on the day and therefore I prioritise the premium of quality which of course is related to the taste experience.
Without going into too much of the technicality, the simple benefits of my freshly made pasta are: a much better grade of absorption and of course by virtue of this, I serve a much tastier product in comparison.
My ingredients otherwise also are all fresh, there is nothing packaged which I add to my Lasagne. The average serving has 2 eggs also. I strictly use Parmigiano Reggiano D.O.P – this makes a much fuller and authentic flavour.
In addition, I use a specialist butcher who supplies all my beef, which is organic and is a much higher quality grade of meat than standard packaged Italian food products.
Even my sauces, béchamel etc. are freshly handmade by my chefs, so every detail is maximised for quality to the enjoyment of my customers and their guests.
SEH: What are your most popular options among the menu?
I’ve realised that finger food is by far my most popular menu category; essentially anything that can be eaten with a napkin by hand is what I prepare for customers the most.
Nibbles for parties keep me very busy, for private gatherings especially, as well as corporate lunches.
SEH: What has been you experience with marketing investments to date?
Investments in marketing have been rather mixed experiences really – some good, some bad. Starting with the good, when I originally launched Doppiozero Catering I organised a launch party from my personal phone book of my old colleagues and friends from my corporate day job: bankers and brokers from the City of London and Canary Wharf and managed to gather about 250 guests, which was a great start for me.
From there, my reputation rippled and I began reaching a wider audience purely from recommendations and word of mouth.
Most recently however, I arrived at the realisation that in order to inject sustainable long term growth into my business I had to invest in other areas of marketing too. So my first step was to upgrade my website.
When I first started I hired a web design agency for a cost effective effort which although minimised my cost, it was a compromise on quality which just didn’t work from my brand at all.
I then searched the market for a web design agency with a better reputation and of course more expensive prices, but I am so glad that I decided to make that investment.
My new website now also includes a solid e-commerce engine in the background and I have also integrated my social media accounts into the site.
SEH: What currently is your main marketing focus?
I hire a social media and marketing manager whose main focus is to place Doppiozero in high profile slots in the local press.
I also hire 2 sales executives to manage business development for me.
SEH: Where did you source your kitchen staff? And how important are they to product consistency?
I found my kitchen staff through personal contacts actually. I employ a team of chefs and kitchen support staff who are all authentically trained and experienced in the traditional Southern Italian culinary skills.
This way I keep the delivery of my product entirely authentic, thus never compromising on what I give to my customers. For this reason I am very careful about my selection of staff – currently they are all Italians.
Not many people know, but economically the conditions in Italy are worse than as publicised about Greece and so many people out there are really in need of employment opportunities.
The availability of such home grown talent has helped Doppiozero a lot.
SEH: What does you ideal customer look like?
My ideal corporate customer would be a company like LinkedIn who I currently serve at their base in London.
Their London office has no kitchen facilities and so for lunches they tend to hire the services of an outside caterer and I am glad that Doppiozero is a preferred supplier to such a customer.
Most recently we have supported them in their special events onsite.
As for private customers, I’m really looking for specific type of person. Ideally, she would live in Chelsea, and an Italian lady, who perhaps has an expensive collection of antiques.
She has a flair for throwing dinner parties with friends and family, but can’t cook and needs a service like, Doppiozero to provide that authentic Italian artisanal homemade food experience for her guests.
Of course, if she also worked for a company like LinkedIn, this would be a bonus!
SEH: How do you generate the majority of your new business enquiries?
The majority of my business comes in by word of mouth which has allowed me to grow a lot really.
I much prefer this type of business enquiry because it is sticky, reliable, economical and the enquirer knows that I come with reputation to be on time and consistent in quality.
I really want to target the local press (West London and South London) to gain the media exposure I believe Doppiozero deserves. A good editorial interview may go a long way as an investment in marketing my business.
SEH: What is your definition of good marketing?
I think good marketing has to be a slave to sales. It has to consistently deliver on finding ways to getting new clients. For example, I don’t believe simply advertising my Lasagne is going to build my business.
Paying for a slot in the local press is my favoured option for now.
SEH: How important is exit value and do you have an exit strategy?
Exit strategy and value is very important for me. A natural extension following my time running Doppiozero, hopefully for many years to come would be opening and running a delicatessen.
Many friends tell me I would be successful at doing this, but it requires a bit more thought. If I have sufficiently grown the value of the brand by then, it could be a natural outgrowth to open such a business like a deli.
SEH: Should you make an exit from this industry, what would your clients miss the most?
My clients would miss my expertise and traditional focus.
SEH: What has been your best marketing investment to date?
My new website has been the best investment to date.
SEH: What has been your most memorable customer compliment?
“Even better than Grandma used to make!” - From one of my Italian customers.
SEH: If I were to run your business for a week, what would be my biggest challenge?
Well, you might have the recipe, but you wouldn’t have the tips in how to make my product.
This makes all the difference! My chefs know exactly what I mean.
SEH: What are the problems which your customers thank you most for solving?
My customers never have to worry about anything, I make sure of that. From waiters, crockery, cutlery, napkins – small things like this I make sure is completely taken care of, even serving cloths.
I make sure they have everything just right. I attended a German school and they literally drummed organisation into us. My customers are very grateful for such attention to detail and it gets me much repeat business.
SEH: If you weren’t running this business, what else could you see yourself pursuing?
If I wasn’t running Doppiozero, I would probably be an event organiser.
SEH: Which area in your business if improved would have the greatest impact on your profit? How do you intend to change it?
The most profitable investment for me currently would be a database of corporate offices in London that have no canteen.
I do many office lunches, yet I could do more.
Whenever I cater for corporate lunches, guests are often so impressed with the quality of my food that they book me for their private family functions too.
SEH: How do long standing customers of Doppiozero still know you care?
I am constantly in touch with customers by phone and email, announcing new product launches in my menus and generally useful information for keeping them happy.
I produce a newsletter also which I distribute with updates of what’s new with Doppiozero. I’m always in the habit of staying in touch.
Tags: Event Catering
Categorised in: A Guide To Hiring An Event Chef
This post was written by selmore