Licensee interview: Marco Arcari and Mario Arcari

January 8th, 2019 | Posted in: Editors' Picks,People

FATHER AND SON TEAM MARCO AND MARIO ARCARI ARE THE DIRECTORS OF THE LA VITA GROUP, OPERATORS OF FIVE GLASGOW RESTAURANTS. JASON CADDY SAT DOWN WITH THEM IN THEIR NEWEST ONE, LA VITA SPUNTINI GORDON STREET, FOR A CHAT.

 

Even sitting down for a coffee with father and son team Marco Arcari, 51, and Mario Arcari, 28, screams quality. It’s beautifully presented on a silver platter, complete with a nifty little side of sparkling water, in the plush setting of La Vita Spuntini Gordon Street in Glasgow, which opened last November.

The La Vita Group began in 1999 and now counts five units in its portfolio including Gordon Street. The others are La Vita Pizzeria Bishopbriggs, La Vita Spuntini Byres Road, La Vita Piccolino e Vino Newton Mearns and La Vita Pizzeria George Square. Between the restaurants, they employ 150 staff.

Confining their operations to Glasgow has been a conscious decision. Explained Marco, “I, well we, like to personally know what is happening in all our units. That’s why we made a conscious decision to only operate in Glasgow. I guess that we fear losing the personal touch. Plus a wise man once told me that ‘small is beautiful’.”

He continued, “Also, customers’ tastes are definitely changing. I call it the small plates scenario. This is far more challenging for kitchens producing a wider variety of dishes. This allows customers to be more adventurous and experimental when they have six dishes between two, say, instead of the traditional starter-main course option.”

We inevitably got on to how business is ticking over at the moment in such a turbulent climate and rates and Brexit cropped up, among other things. Said Marco, “Business is definitely harder, yet operators must continue to be price conscious and give impeccable customer service to survive. Brexit has forced us to look at property prices in terms of any future acquisitions and things are only going to get harder in that respect. Plus there are more and more places opening, and even the big multiples are finding it challenging. That is the reason we keep our business model tight.”

He continued, “It’s just the uncertainty of it all – and especially overstaffing. Some of ours are thinking of going back home, some are thinking of staying, while others are thinking of getting a British passport. All of this is causing unsettlement in the market and prices are to increase dramatically, putting more pressure on operators that are trying to deliver a healthy margin.”

Marco also has equally as undiluted views on the thorny rates issue. “It’s unrealistic that we pay a lot more than retail units pay. Moreover, there isn’t the high street demand that there once was because of online shopping, and so Glasgow city centre is becoming more entertainment-led, with the likes of the Hydro, and this should be reflected in the rates, whereas the opposite is happening,” he said.

But in spite of all of this, they still uphold the belief that customer service is king, always striving for continuous improvement. Said Mario, “We aim to operate the best quality units that we can and make some form of margin. We take tremendous pride in what we’re doing. That’s why one complaint in an otherwise complaint-free evening can really put me in a bad mood. You really take it personally. In fact, there’s no better feeling that everybody has left happy. That said, the customer has to appreciate how hard we all work in this industry and what goes on behind the scenes.”

Before building the restaurant business, Marco had a good training ground working in his parent’s fish and chip shops. He said, “My parents ran fish and chip shops right across Glasgow, which I took on. Then, in 1999, my late brother Tony and I opened our first restaurant in Bishopbriggs. We had never done anything like it before so it was a really steep learning curve because we had to learn from the bottom up just like you must do in any business, to be honest. But, and more importantly, we discovered that we had a passion for hospitality as we came to understand the business better and better.”

He continued, “Five years later we purchased the George Square property and, as our first city centre premises, this came with its own unique challenges because the customers, as well as their expectations, were all very different. People wanted things quicker, having a ‘commuter mentality’. We also attracted

Even sitting down for a coffee with father and son team Marco Arcari, 51, and Mario Arcari, 28, screams quality. It’s beautifully presented on a silver platter, complete with a nifty little side of sparkling water, in the plush setting of La Vita Spuntini Gordon Street in Glasgow, which opened last November.

The La Vita Group began in 1999 and now counts five units in its portfolio including Gordon Street. The others are La Vita Pizzeria Bishopbriggs, La Vita Spuntini Byres Road, La Vita Piccolino e Vino Newton Mearns and La Vita Pizzeria George Square. Between the restaurants, they employ 150 staff.

Confining their operations to Glasgow has been a conscious decision. Explained Marco, “I, well we, like to personally know what is happening in all our units. That’s why we made a conscious decision to only operate in Glasgow. I guess that we fear losing the personal touch. Plus a wise man once told me that ‘small is beautiful’.”

He continued, “Also, customers’ tastes are definitely changing. I call it the small plates scenario. This is far more challenging for kitchens producing a wider variety of dishes. This allows customers to be more adventurous and experimental when they have six dishes between two, say, instead of the traditional starter-main course option.”

We inevitably got on to how business is ticking over at the moment in such a turbulent climate and rates and Brexit cropped up, among other things. Said Marco, “Business is definitely harder, yet operators must continue to be price conscious and give impeccable customer service to survive. Brexit has forced us to look at property prices in terms of any future acquisitions and things are only going to get harder in that respect. Plus there are more and more places opening, and even the big multiples are finding it challenging. That is the reason we keep our business model tight.”

He continued, “It’s just the uncertainty of it all – and especially overstaffing. Some of ours are thinking of going back home, some are thinking of staying, while others are thinking of getting a British passport. All of this is causing unsettlement in the market and prices are to increase dramatically, putting more pressure on operators that are trying to deliver a healthy margin.”

Marco also has equally as undiluted views on the thorny rates issue. “It’s unrealistic that we pay a lot more than retail units pay. Moreover, there isn’t the high street demand that there once was because of online shopping, and so Glasgow city centre is becoming more entertainment-led, with the likes of the Hydro, and this should be reflected in the rates, whereas the opposite is happening,” he said.

But in spite of all of this, they still uphold the belief that customer service is king, always striving for continuous improvement. Said Mario, “We aim to operate the best quality units that we can and make some form of margin. We take tremendous pride in what we’re doing. That’s why one complaint in an otherwise complaint-free evening can really put me in a bad mood. You really take it personally. In fact, there’s no better feeling that everybody has left happy. That said, the customer has to appreciate how hard we all work in this industry and what goes on behind the scenes.”

Before building the restaurant business, Marco had a good training ground working in his parent’s fish and chip shops. He said, “My parents ran fish and chip shops right across Glasgow, which I took on. Then, in 1999, my late brother Tony and I opened our first restaurant in Bishopbriggs. We had never done anything like it before so it was a really steep learning curve because we had to learn from the bottom up just like you must do in any business, to be honest. But, and more importantly, we discovered that we had a passion for hospitality as we came to understand the business better and better.”

He continued, “Five years later we purchased the George Square property and, as our first city centre premises, this came with its own unique challenges because the customers, as well as their expectations, were all very different. People wanted things quicker, having a ‘commuter mentality’. We also attracted

those looking for a big night out rather than an intimate family gathering. But, like our first opening, we had to learn ourselves on the job.”

Then, in 2007, a personal tragedy caused Mario to rethink his entire business model. Said Marco, “My brother Tony sadly passed away and this was when I decided to concentrate on the restaurants by farming out the fish and chip shops. We already had the Byres Road premises at this point but we didn’t have planning permission to make the alterations to what was Robert Biggars Pawnbrokers. We eventually got everything in place and began work on bringing this one to life

in 2008.”

He continued, “In the Byres Road unit we went down the tapas version of Italian and I believe that we were the first in the trade to do that. This was completely different, simply because there are more dishes, which requires more preparation, more creativity. We had to run it ourselves and be focussed and hands-on, which only strengthened our resolve to keep the business in Glasgow.”

This is when Mario came on board and I had to ask him how they both coped with working with one another, and whether or not any other family members were involved. Said Mario “Working together is okay, but not in the same unit! I have a brother but he’s nothing to do with the business – he’s pursuing a music career in London.”

Then came unit number four in Newton Mearns, which also came with its own challenges. Said Mario, “Five years ago we opened our Newton Mearns restaurant. This was our first foray into the breakfast market and this presented further problems, like getting reliable staff that will rise that early (two didn’t turn up this morning!). That’s another reason we need to be close to our operations – to step in and save the day when we have to.”

It strikes me that this pair lives to work and that Mario is a chip off the old block in that neither get much time away from the business. Said Mario, “I have a newborn son – well he’s three-and-a-half months, so there’s not a lot of time for very much else away from work.” Marco added, “My grandson is the most important thing in my life – but I also like the odd round of golf too.

They also dine out as an excuse to check out the competition. Said Mario, “In terms of what other operators are doing, we do check out what’s going on, but we prefer to focus on doing what we are doing and doing it well rather than what other operators are doing.”

In terms of the future, Mario is very clear on what legacy he wants to leave, and when it’s time for him to call it a day. He explained, “Learning is the most exciting part of the job and so once I stop learning it’s time to hang up my boots. I look at what we are doing as a long-term investment to pass on to the next generation.”

 

Jason Caddy


Orry Shand named Chef of the Year at ScotHot

Mon 18th March 2019

Orry Shand, of Entier, won Scottish Chef of the Year at this year’s ScotHot at Glasgow’s SECC, sponsored by Brakes Sco... Read more.

Average spend on late-night out increases 15.5% to almost £70

Mon 18th March 2019

The average spend on a late-night out has increased 15.5% to £68.68, according to the latest Deltic Night Index, compared with £59.49 for ... Read more.

Scottish chefs set out vision to reform hospitality industry 

Thu 14th March 2019

More than 60 chefs and cooks from across Scotland have pledged their support to a new culinary manifesto, which aims to reform Scotland’s ... Read more.

SCALA boss welcomes Brexit delay

Thu 14th March 2019

Theresa May will make a third attempt to get her EU withdrawal deal through Parliament in the next week after MPS voted to reject a no-deal ... Read more.

Historic Auchtermuchty pub on the market

Wed 13th March 2019

The Forest Inn in Auchtermuchty is now on the market with offers invited for the three-storey property. Christie’s and Co in Edinburgh is ... Read more.

Hotfoot it to ScotHot

Wed 13th March 2019

Which licensee worth his or her salt isn’t looking for an opportunity to meet with suppliers, network with others to share ideas and i... Read more.

BUZZWORKS RETAINS ITS PLACE ALONGSIDE THE BEST IN UK 

Tue 12th March 2019

Buzzworks Holdings has been named in The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work for in the UK for the fourth consecutive year. It recognise... Read more.

Edinburgh Craft Beer Festival returns for 2019 with foodie focus

Tue 12th March 2019

Edinburgh Craft Beer Festival returns to the city this May, from Friday 24 – Saturday 25 May, with a special foodie focus. It’s... Read more.

SCOTTISH LICENSEES RECOGNISED AT STAR AWARDS

Mon 11th March 2019

The achievements of top Scottish licensees were celebrated at Star Pubs & Bars’ annual Star Awards. The awards were the biggest ever h... Read more.

ScotHot study shines spotlight on mental health in hospitality sector

Mon 11th March 2019

Nearly 60% of people working in Scotland’s hospitality industry have experienced mental health problems at work, a new national survey has... Read more.

The Beer and Now

Thu 7th March 2019

It’s the world’s most popular drink after water and tea. There’s even a crater on the moon named after it. We’re talking about beer ... Read more.

BREWDOG LAUNCHES ITS FIRST DRAFT HOUSE PUB IN ABERDEEN

Thu 7th March 2019

BrewDog debuts its new Draft House pub called The Hop & Anchor, on Exchange Street, in its home city of Aberdeen, on Friday 8th March. I... Read more.

Whisky storms to the top of Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index with 40% annual growth

Thu 7th March 2019

The Wealth Report 2019 reveals that new entrant whisky has topped the Knight Frank Luxury Investment Index (KFLII), surging in value by 40% ... Read more.

QUILMES REFRESH AND NEW NAME

Wed 6th March 2019

Morgenrot’s Argentine beer brand Quilmes has undergone a full brand revamp including a new packaging makeover of its bottles and cans, and... Read more.

GREEN INK FOR PILSNER

Wed 6th March 2019

Carlsberg UK has unveiled a new, ‘better’ Carlsberg Danish Pilsner to minimise its environmental impact, with sustainable packaging and ... Read more.

Star Pubs & Bars injects £960,000 investment into four Edinburgh pubs

Tue 5th March 2019

Two multiple operators are undertaking major investments with Star Pubs & Bars as part of a £960,000 investment in four Edinburgh pubs ... Read more.

COUNTING HOUSE DOME RESTORATION

Tue 5th March 2019

The historic centre-piece domed ceiling at The Counting House in Glasgow’s George Square, Wetherspoon’s first pub in Scotland that opene... Read more.

Design Focus: The Crescent

Tue 5th March 2019

It’s been a long time coming, but Bubbles and Rahul Randev of the R Group have finally unveiled their latest Glasgow venture, The Crescent... Read more.

Design Focus: Cold Town House

Tue 5th March 2019

Bucket loads of divine design inspiration evidently rained down on Tibbatts Abel, the people responsible for the look and feel of Cold Town ... Read more.

Diageo launches new series of films to celebrate 2019 International Women’s Day

Mon 4th March 2019

As the world comes together this International Women’s Day on March 8th to celebrate #BalanceforBetter Diageo has released a new seri... Read more.