“It actually started as a game, many years ago” says Giancarlo Perbellini “we were a group of friends who wanted to start a restaurant for fun, but we soon understood there was potential to do more, developing other projects as well.”. Perbellini is in fact not only the brains behind the gourmet restaurant bearing his name (the year-old Casa Perbellini in the center of Verona was bestowed Two Forks by the Guida del Gambero Rosso guide), he is also the person responsible for developing – in a mere quarter of a century – his entire city’s dining scene. Think the informal eatery trattoria, his seafood restaurant, the pizzeria, a tapas bar, even the boutique hotel Cinque, at a stone’s throw from San Zeno. These are the many milestones of tireless Giancarlo Perbellini’s journey in the last two decades. “In time we also understood that ‘the kids’ could also become businessmen”. Not all of them, obviously. Not everybody shares that same knack for opening and growing restaurants. “But some are indeed gifted, even if they don’t know it yet”. In that case, the thing to do first, is work. Fortunately, the cogs are already well-oiled: “With a good idea, and a young person possessing the will to emerge, the project is good to go”. The kids, as Perbellini calls them, become employees, partners and managers, accordingly. And then things evolve, sometimes connected to the Perbellini organism, sometimes completely detached from it. Not a surprise then that none of the restaurants (save for the one in Hong Kong) carry his name. This was a forward-thinking decision: “if one day one of the partners or employees decides to buy the business, there is no problem. That’s what happened with Al Pompiere and L'Oste Scuro”. The former serves regional cuisine, the latter is a seafood restaurant. These, along with San Basilio alla Pergola are the first restaurants helmed by the Veronese chef.
A few numbers: 62 employed, including the 7 in the pastry kitchen; 8 locations in Verona plus the two in Hong Kong and Venezia, which are a chapter unto themselves. “Each place is managed differently,” says Perbellini “our ex-employees are in charge, except in Venice and Hong Kong, which are connected directly to Casa Perbellini”. Yet it’s not only the business structure that differs: each restaurant possesses an individual character, “I didn’t want the restaurants to all to be the same, neither did I want a sole centralized and organized governing philosophy. Every restaurant is independent, and has its own menu and kitchen identity, this applies also to the wine list. In short, our organizational chart is a non-existent one, each restaurant is autonomous because it must maintain its own identity”. An identity borne from a strong baseline, a curated benchmark that is never banal. Equally original is the new gastronomic restaurant's new look, intimate with a home feel and a tailored menu that focuses on daily supply and express preparations. There is no advance storage in the Perbellini kitchen: French elegance, high level techniques and ingredients that rely heavily on local tradition. This is quite a commitment, for sure. It’s a daily challenge: “Casa Perbellini, as it’s conceived, implies my constant presence. I firmly believe a chef should always be in his restaurant”. The hardest part? Needless to say, the dining room service staff. It’s possible to find people interested in the profession, but many aim at landing jobs in the gourmet world, “it’s lots of work elsewhere” for this reason, at Casa Perbellini and in the other restaurants, when a valid employee comes along we tend to make him a keeper, “to create proper businesses you need good human resource, and in Italy this is not easy to find”.
Let’s go back to basics: doesn’t centralizing supplies assure more profitable prices? “Of course we have sealed agreements and thus more convenient prices. I interface with suppliers but these benefits are all agreed upon verbally with a handshake. Nothing more”. There is no giant operating in the Verona scenario, rather a fluid multi-functional organism in constant development. In terms of the Perbellini offer, are there conformities and centralized decisions? “We agree on everything, surely. From purchases and advertising (which is designed by a marketing team and myself, plus each of the restaurants’ managers) to the menus: I drop in to taste the new dishes and we discuss them together. Initially everything was prepped at Isola Rizza and then distributed. Now each restaurant is self-sufficient, and sails independently. I only stop by to oversee”. Aside from the work cohesion that binds Perbellini to his partners and collaborators, these businesses have been open for some time now: 3 or 4 years and counting, 12 in the case of Du de Cope, the Neapolitan pizzeria that is now one of Verona’s most popular tables.
The pizzeria and the other restaurants
Serving Neapolitan pizza in Verona: this was Perbellini’s goal. Hence the care in perfecting the dough and designing a slim menu, with only a couple dozen pies: “our menu changes three times a year, with ideas coming from either me or Alessandro, our head pizza chef. He knows exactly what I like. I, on the other hand, cover the signature pizzas”. We bake a carbonara pizza; or one with radicchio, lardo and black truffle; or others whose toppings represent classic Italian flavors functional to the Neapolitan crust. “Besides these, our classic pizzas reflect our style and all are made with extraordinary ingredients: prime quality tomatoes, anchovies from Cetara or Cantabria, and so forth”.
Al Capitan della Cittadella, the fleet’s seafood restaurant, on the other hand, was born 10 years ago, and somehow shadows the experience of l'Oste Scuro. Ingredients, market and wise dish choices make for a more affordable menu. Then there’s the Italian cuisine with modern twists of Locanda 4 Cuochi, this is again the evolution of another chapter in Perbellini’s life, the one experienced at Forte Village in Sardinia. Attentive care is given to keeping food costs in check, wisely chosen recipes and an offer that makes this place crunch big numbers and clients happy at greatly reduced prices. There there’s Tapasotto, with its tapas (we’d rather call them cicchetti) and some dishes to pair with the wines; Dopolavoro at JW Marriott Venice Resort on the Isola delle Rose island in Venice (just opened and already recipient of Two Forks), Locanda Perbellini in Hong Kong and Dolce Locanda.
Perbellini and the new pastry frontier
Dolce Locanda was born around 18 months ago, and created from the rib of Locanda 4 Cuochi, which explains its name. At the helm (as partner) is Giulia Cerboneschi, nominated best up-and-coming pastry chef by the Guida Pasticcerie d'Italia del Gambero Rosso guide. “My profession was not in pastry” Perbellini surprisingly admits, “even if I was virtually born in a pastry kitchen, for me this is the hardest task”. Dolce Locanda produces all the desserts served in the group’s restaurants, including the entire sweet offer, from breakfast pastries, mignon single servings, to their famed mille feuille and the grand cakes. “Starting this year, our pastry offer will also have 6 or 7 more stores in Italy. We’re slowly developing a sales network”.
At close distance
How is it possible to oversee all this? It’s easy, apparently: “I live nearby and I tend to visit each place daily. On my day off – Monday – I go to Venice at Dopolavoro”. What would happen should you open in a bigger city, one further away from home? After the Verona challenge is it not time to tackle something different, like Rome or Milan? “We’re thinking about it” admits Perbellini, “we are looking for the right areas, studying market fluctuations thanks to people on the ground in both places”. But each step needs to be carefully planned. The idea is solid: “we want to replicate what happened with Locanda”, the same as for 4 Cuochi, Hong Kong and Forte Village. “We have the format and the human resource, there are people within our group that are ready to break off and create a whole new team. The timeline? Hopefully in a year, 18 months tops we hope to open in Milan”.
Clients and Horizons
Different restaurants attract different clienteles, or has there been a collective loyalty? “Our restaurants are visited by many people. Clients trust our brand and are eager to try new places under it. There’s a sort of circle of customers that revolves around our restaurants, not always visiting all of them and with the same frequency”. Makes sense, considering all the restaurants belong in different categories. What about Hong Kong, what is the offer there? “It is virtually the carbon copy of Locanda 4 Cuochi in Verona, both as far as menu (carpaccios, breaded and fried mozzarella ‘in carrozza’ and so on) and as far as prices, between 25 and 50 Euro”. Visited by both Chinese and Italians, this is a slightly different business formula: “We sold the brand for 10 years. The personnel is sourced locally – which is easier there – because there are lower wages and contributions and a more widely available work force. On our end we take care of the menu, suppliers and ingredients. We have carte blanche as long as we remain within the agreed food costs.” Same goes for Venice, where the Perbellini management has brought to fame the Marriott Hotel’s restaurant Dopolavoro, located on the enchanting Isola delle Rose.
We look forward to seeing the next steps of this constantly evolving entrepreneurial story.
Casa Perbellini | Verona | piazza San Zeno, 16 | tel. 045 8780860 | www.casaperbellini.com
Locanda 4 Cuochi | Verona | via Mario Alberto, 12 | tel. 045 8030311-8021705 | www.locanda4cuochi.it
Al Capitan della Cittadella | Verona | piazza Cittadella, 7 | tel. 045 595157 | www.alcapitan.it
Pizzeria Du De Cope | Verona | Galleria Pelliciai, 10 | tel. 045 595562 | www.pizzeriadudecope.it
Tapasotto | Verona | Galleria Pelliciai, 12 | tel. 045 591477 | www.tapasotto.it
Dolce Locanda | Verona | via Catullo Valerio, 12 | tel. 045 8004211 | www.dolcelocanda.it
Cinque | Verona | piazzetta Portichetti, 3 | tel. 045 597004 | www.cinquerooms.it
Dopolavoro del JW Marriott Venice Resort | Isola delle Rose (VE) | laguna di San Marco P.O. Box 731 | tel. 041.2968111 | www.jwvenice.com
Locanda by Giancarlo Perbellini | Hong Kong | Ocean Centre | Harbour City | Kowloon | tel. +852 2785 9600 | www.diningconcepts.com/LaLocanda
by Antonella De Santis
translated by Eleonora Baldwin