Restaurateur, Businessman, Innovator. Marco Giannantonio is a jack-of-all-trades, having conquered the restaurant industry here in Dublin. The native Italian began studying law in Rome before making the move to Dublin to improve his English. Taken with the idea of bringing Italian food to Irish shores, he began the Italian School of Cooking, quickly followed by a catering company, and a touring group that traversed the streets of Italy. This was all with the help of his partner Maurizio Mastrangelo, and the two finally opened Pinocchio Restaurant in 2008. Marco gave us a little hint as to what the future holds for this Italian entrepreneur.
You originally started studying law in Rome is that right?
Yes that’s right, I did that for a number of years and then I came to Ireland.
So how did you end up in the food business?
I started with friends 15 years ago. They owned a restaurant here in Dublin and I was helping them. But when I met my company partner Maurizio, we set up our own restaurant and the rest is history.
Was meeting Maurizio the catalyst for the whole thing?
Definitely yes, we had a dream together to open up a bastion of Italian food in Ireland. We started with the cookery school, then opened up a catering service and then started to bring Irish people on tours to Italy, and finally opened up the Pinocchio Restaurant in 2008.
So the Pinocchio Restaurant was really the last thing in your list of plans. How do you think the restaurant industry has changed since 2008?
It’s changed a lot. When the recession hit it was incredibly difficult but it was also an opportunity for us to focus on quality and to keep believing in what we were doing, and after a few years now we can say that everything is coming back to normal. The fact that we’re in Ranelagh helps us a lot because we’re in a good area and we were able to create a group of regular customers.
So you’ve five things going on: the restaurant, the travel operations company, the catering, the cookery school and Flavour of Italy. How do you go about managing all of it?
We have more than 20 people working with us. Between myself and Maritsio we try to supervise every area, but we have some really good guys who help us manage the restaurant, the school and catering. We believe a lot in team work and in finding the right people to train in. Trust is a major factor, and without it you can’t do business successfully.
Coming from Italy and English not being your mother tongue, do you think it was more difficult to set up a business and succeed than if you were from Dublin?
Yes for sure. At the beginning the language barrier was difficult, but also the approach to the work was different. At the same time the business environment here was very fair to me and there were plenty of opportunities, so in terms of opportunity Ireland is great.
Your tour operations company sounds amazing. What can people expect when they go on your trips?
We offer an authentic Italian experience, not in the conventional tourist way like to Venice or Rome but we go to places around the countryside and people can see the harvests and vineyards, see how cheese and wine is made etc. and we take people to festivals in the country villages too. They are escorted by us and we can show them around.
Is there a certain region you usually visit or does it move around?
It depends on the season. We avoid going to the South of Italy during the summer because it’s so hot but usually we go everywhere.
The Italian School of Cookery is one of the more well-known cookery schools in Dublin and it’s only been open since 2005. How do you think you’ve gotten to where you are, being so well-known and so well-regarded?
It’s something original. If you went to Italy and you set up an authentic Irish cooking school, people would love it. So it’s the same thing in reverse. But also I think we’re working well because other cookery schools focus too much on specifics, like “30gs sugar” or “100gs flour” etc. and can be a bit boring. Our priority is to teach how to cook in an easy way and with enjoyment. Everything is done in such a way so that people enjoy what they’re doing, build bonds of friendship with the people they’re cooking with, and can have a glass of wine with others. So it’s a very different experience from the other cookery schools out there.
I read that you’ve a Barista course too. How popular has that become?
Not quite as popular because it’s more of a one-to-one course. If people want to start working in a restaurant, café or bar they come and do this course but we don’t offer it in group sessions.
In regard to your catering, is it companies and businesses that you cater for?
Yes we have plenty of companies that we cater for daily near the old Naas road and around the larger Dublin area.
So what are your aspirations for Flavour of Italy and Pinocchio for 2015?
We want to consolidate our business in every sector. We’re launching a new series of master’s classes that will be made available in the cookery school and in the restaurant too. For Pinocchio we are improving the menu year after year, especially the wine list. We are introducing some new wines and we have a partnership with a wine maker from one of the regions in Italy where we take people on the tours. For the catering we are working hard to increase our number of clients. And we’d like to open up another few Pinocchio restaurants around Dublin sometime in the future, maybe even expand to the UK and the US.
How important do you think it is for restaurants to have an online presence in the current climate?
The work you do online is almost as important now as the work you do offline. In past years everything was done offline, now instead communication and marketing has changed so fundamentally, so the real game is online. I like to delegate and find the right partner, so if Menupages is the leading company in restaurant bookings and marketing then it’s better to share profit with another organization like Menupages than do all the marketing by myself. It works because through Menupages we’re getting a good flow of customers.
How do you think online reviews benefit restaurants like yours?
They can really help a lot. They not only generate curiosity, build up our reputation and encourage people to visit but they also give us helpful feedback. The only bad thing is that people might take advantage of that ability to leave a review, so there is always a small risk.