A penchant for traditional Italian food and service are in the genes for a Perth couple. Carolyn Herbert reports.
A LACK of experience in hospitality couldn’t deter glass merchant Andrea Sezzi and his partner Rebecca Frontino from establishing a contemporary, Venetian-inspired ristorante and patisserie in the city.
La Monakella is located on the former Hay Street site of Mr Sezzi’s Venetian glass shop, Murano Venezia, which he relocated to Subiaco in order to start his new business venture.
“Rebecca and I were looking for something different to do; our business was in chandeliers but I have always been fascinated with food, so we came up with the idea of joining up with another business, the Fiorentina Patisserie,” Mr Sezzi told Gusto.
Having never worked in hospitality, Mr Sezzi and Ms Frontino decided to bring another partner on board to develop their vision of a traditional, family-oriented ‘trattoria’.
“I wanted to have the kind of patisserie cafe, ristorante, pizzeria that Brunetti has in Melbourne,” Mr Sezzi says.
Opening as Perth’s third Fiorentina cafe in November last year, the partners in life and business did not have things all their own way, however, with the relationship with the Fiorentina owner souring early into the venture.
“We met through the landlord here and started from there; however two months in we decided that the relationship wasn’t working and we thought that we could achieve things better ourselves,” Mr Sezzi says.
The pair told Gusto that,when their connection with Fiorentina came to at an end, re-branding the business was a challenge, especially when it came to deciding on a new name to capture the essence of the business.
Venetian born, Mr Sezzi says it was his early childhood memories that inspired him to rename the restaurant La Monakella, meaning ‘the little nun’.
“The first time I was introduced to Italian cooking was when I was in school, I went to school with nuns and there was a nun who was the chief of the canteen who used to cook fantastic Italian food,” Mr Sezzi says.
“So I had this image of this little nun cooking in school. I was very fussy as a child and that was the only food I remember eating outside of home without crying,” he jokes.
The word is correctly spelt ‘La Monachella’, but the pair decided to change it to ensure customers would pronounce it properly.
Ms Frontino, who also has an Italian background, has grown up watching her mother and nonna cooking traditional Italian meals.
“I have always loved cooking and we wanted to make La Monakella just like when you go to Italy, great coffee, great food and great service,” Ms Frontino says.
At present, La Monakella’s business is divided into three dining options – patisserie and coffees, a ready-to-go ‘panini’ bar, and a sit-down lunch.
Mr Sezzi told Gusto that the patisserie and panini bar account for the majority of La Monakella’s business, as it has been difficult to promote sit-down dining without a liquor licence.
“The sit-down part of the restaurant will work once we have a liquor licence, because people want to sit down and have a nice glass of wine, particularly with Italian food,” Mr Sezzi says.
The couple applied for a restaurant liquor licence this month, after finding that some customers were going elsewhere because of La Monakella’s BYO status.
“Because so many of our customers are corporate, if they are bringing a client out for lunch they would rather order wine from the menu than have the burden of going to a bottleshop to buy a bottle of wine,” Ms Frontino says.
However, the pair has found that administration and customer service, which many hospitality businesses cite as a difficult part of the job, are their greatest strengths.
“I love the administration side of things, I do have an accountant, but I enjoy looking at all the numbers to see if a business is working and for me, that is very exciting,” Mr Sezzi says.
Ms Frontino has adopted the front-of-house role and makes it her business to ensure that customers have an enjoyable experience.
“I can’t stand paperwork, but I love working on the floor, interacting with our clients and building a relationship,” she says.
“Ultimately, word of mouth is the best way to promote a business.”