Licensee Interview: Giovanna Eusebi
EUSEBI IS ONE OF THE MOST SUCCESSFUL RESTAURANTS IN GLASGOW’S WEST END. SUSAN YOUNG CAUGHT UP WITH THE OWNER.
Our interviewee this month is Giovanna Eusebi who owns the thriving Eusebi Deli and Restaurant in Glasgow’s West End. Now, I have a confession to make here – my mother is one of Eusebi’s biggest fans… from popping in for a glass of wine, to strolling down for breakfast, and to eyeing up the truffles and freshly baked breads…there is hardly a week that goes by that she is not extolling its virtues.
Of course, I too have eaten there on numerous occasions, and usually Giovanna has been there. In fact when I caught up with her on a sunny Monday morning, she told me that the recent Mother’s Day weekend had been so busy that she and Manager Michael had done about 50 hours each – so understandably she was in need of an espresso.
But how nice was it to sit outside, enjoying the sunshine and talking about her passion – which is food! It has been her life since she was born, having come from a family that has always celebrated great food. Giovanna tells me, “Food has been the very fabric of my life.”
Her family are from the Castleforte region of Italy and her grandparents were, “old fashioned peasant farmers.” She explains, “In these days there were no clocks and my grandparents planted their produce and harvested it according to the four seasons. For them it was all about sustainability. For instance they would raise a pig, kill it, salt it and use every bit of it. That was just the way it was.”
Her mother came to Scotland in 1959 after meeting her father who was on holiday in Italy. But over the course of her early years, her mother had lived in San Paulo and then in Lyon, France. In fact Giovanna’s aunts stayed there. Says Giovanna, “This means that I learned not just about Italian food, but about French food too.”
On her father’s side, her grandparents came to Scotland in 1910 and had owned an ice-cream shop in Partick called the Rendevous Cafe but Giovanna’s dad took his own route and opened a fruit and Italian grocery shop in the East End of Glasgow at Shettleston. Says Giovanna, “My dad lived across the road from the shop, which was a single-end, but even then my family were a bit different. For instance despite the fact we lived in suburbia my dad kept chickens! When we used to go for day trips we would go to Lanark and my mum and gran were always leaping out to pick dandelions and turnip tops for us to eat, and my mum used to prepare lunch boxes for us to take to school which had such exotic items as pasta. I used to long for a straightforward ham sandwich because we used to get teased at school!
“Meanwhile Eusebi Deli sold things like exotic peppers and mushrooms, Marzano tomatoes and olive oils – they were definitely not normal fare at the time! As the business grew my mum realised that there was an opportunity when it came to preparing food for people – it was at the time people were cooking less. She would cook Italian pasta meals for them to take home. It was early day ‘convenience food’ but it was good food, driven by the seasons.”
She continues, “They had learned this from my grand parents who because they came from farming stock always looked forward to the changing seasons. For them everything revolved around the land. There was a Bean Festival, a Chestnut Festival, in the summer it was tomatoes and grapes and fiestas outside. I wanted to do that here. When we change our menu in the Spring, I give my customers a wee taster plate of broad beans and some Pecorino Romano, a hard, salty Italian cheese which is the first cheese of the Spring. It’s our wee welcome to the season.”
Before going to work with her dad 15 years ago, Giovanna went to University, at first in Edinburgh, but she finished her university education at Strathclyde University where she did Marketing and Languages. She then spent 10 years working with British Airways and travelled all over the world. She says, “I supposed I have stored away all the memories of these places but I also learned about service, and that ethos has never left me.”
When Giovanna went to work with her father at Eusebi’s in Shettleston, she flourished. Says Giovanna, “My father was a great man. I worked with him every day and he and the rest of family were my mentors. He was a beautiful cook, and very, very supportive of us all. I have two brothers – Eddie, my partner in the business, and another brother Enrico. My dad used to say how lucky he was to have such a lovely family. There has always been a lot of love around me, and my life has been defined by love, not money.”
She continues, “I’m creative, emotional and passionate. Food for me is symbolic and it reminds me of emotional times in my life. For instance, my dad used to make a great, but simple sugo, and I used to freeze it. After he died, really unexpectedly, I still had some of the sugo he had cooked but when I used it I knew it would be the last time I every tasted something he had cooked. It was bittersweet.”
Her father died, 10 years ago, about the same time they got the Park Road premises that now houses Eusebi, but it took the family until 2015 to open. Says Giovanna, “It just wasn’t meant to be for a while – we had to get planning, the recession hit, and I wasn’t in a good place to start something new. But when we did get to it, I knew that I wanted a place that took our customers away from touristy Italy because I wanted to show people how diverse Italian food was – from the North to the South, from the mountains to the pastures. Everything changes and I want that to be reflected in the menu.”
She continues, “Before we opened, I sent my chefs to Rome so that they would get a benchmark of Italian flavour, and in fact they will go back to Italy in May to continue their journey. We are all on a journey, I take training very seriously. I want excellence. I do have 40 staff, and I am hands on, but I do delegate. Everything that you see at the deli counter has been developed and approved. As far as I am concerned the devil is in the detail. We have a great time, and team work certainly makes the dream work!”
When it comes to the food that Eusebi sells Giovanna is very particular and imports much of it from Italy herself – from the Olive oil to the Calabrian tomatoes. She says, “I am all about authenticity. The providence of food is very important. However, my dad taught me that it is just as important how you make people feel. He knew the names of his customers, their birthdays, their stories. Every customer is on a journey and really it’s all about how your last customer feels, when they leave. “We may be casual dining but I don’t believe in casual service. I’ll even send someone home if their shirt isn’t ironed.
We do intensive training, and all my staff should be able to tell you everything about the food they are serving. I’m also still learning. In fact last year I went to Lausanne on a HIT (Hospitality Industry Trust) Scholarship. It was life changing. Knowing that this was the very best school in Europe, and knowing that our teachers were masters of excellence, made a huge impression. You can feed off their energy and that made me want to up my game. I’ve always liked to punch above my weight and this course reinforced it. I would recommend it to anyone.”
She concludes, “This is not really ‘my shop’. It is a business that has been made out of love, hard work and sacrifice. In fact the pictures in Eusebi tell the story – they are authentic photographs of my family. And I appreciate them every day. My mother is amazing, and my brothers are too. That’s not to say that we don’t argue, we do, but we all want the very best for each other. I also want the very best for my staff – I want to teach them, I want them to grow. When someone comes for an interview and says that they one day want to have their own place, I know they will fit in at Eusebi! I am a sharer and I don’t mind sharing what we have. Because no one can copy my passion or the shop’s DNA.”
She is certainly right there!