By: Andres Avayu Chef/Owner of Piccolo Ristorante with photo credit to Dana Hoff/CityEats –
I opened my restaurant only six and a half months ago and one thing I have learned is that I have to stay true to my concept and believe it is the right thing to do. I wanted to create a small Italian restaurant with Mediterranean influences that provided not just a meal but an experience to enjoy some wine, conversation and each others’ company in a relaxed and pleasant atmosphere.
Being social plays a huge role in the dining out experience and that is why we focus on creating an evening and meal that is pure indulgence and enjoyment. People arrive, enjoy a bottle of wine, good conversation and really forget the worries of the day or the week. We provide the atmosphere customers need to not only be fed, but to truly relax and spend time without feeling rushed or anxious.
My approach to cooking is remaining true to the traditional French culinary techniques to prepare delicious food. The basics of cooking work very well for me. It is a dependable way of cooking that I enjoy and know it works for my purposes. There is a trend towards experimentation, trying new techniques and flavors, and this works for many Chefs, but I wanted to go back to “the basics” and use the techniques I was taught in culinary school. I believe there is still a calling for traditional, authentic flavors and that is why I have chosen traditional Italian and Mediterranean foods.
Our restaurant is located next to a restaurant that has been in the same location 20 years and the Chef/Owner shared some words of wisdom with me. He said that you have to believe that what you are doing is right and that you cannot get discouraged. It is humorous that friends, who are also Chefs, all seem to ask me the same questions: “Aren’t you scared? Aren’t you nervous?” I of course answer, “Yes.” As long as you are nervous you are striving to do better. Once you become too comfortable, you can get lazy and assume you do not have to work as hard any more.
As with any new venture, opening up a restaurant is very hard work. I think it is even more work than many Chefs might realize. It is time consuming and very demanding. I started up the restaurant as a team with my wife and brother in law. This was against advice that you should never do business with family. My wife is in charge of Business Development and my brother in law is the General Manager. We are finding it works very well for us. We know each other well and we know what is happening in each other’s lives. We trust each other and help each other out. It just seems natural to work with people you love and trust.
We aimed to open in time for the tourist season and were able to do so. This has worked in our favour because it has allowed us to attract the tourists as well as the locals. We have seen locals coming in and then returning with friends. We have also seen people from New England and Canada who have winter residences here and they have been major customers here as well. We enjoy seeing people come in and enjoy a meal one night, then return with a group of friends another night and then those friends will return with a group of new friends.
Even with technology and social media, I still think it is all about word of mouth when it comes to advertising and getting the word out about a new place to eat. We have had some success by offering such things as a complimentary glass of wine or dessert. This was effective because it brought new customers in and we were able to turn them into repeat customers. I intend to continue with the current business and marketing plans, trusting in my decisions, and never losing the enthusiasm I have new as a new Chef/Owner.