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


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