It takes courage to start a business. To do so in a foreign land requires not only courage, but also some measure of self-confidence. And to start a business in a foreign country in a field completely different than that which you studied, or in which you obtained your first work experience, calls for a full measure of madness.
Marco D'Amelj Melodia and Tiziana Somma, the founders of Mozzarellart, have an abundance of such qualities. Like proper Italians, they have communication in their blood. But they went about setting up an Italian cheese factory in Prague without knowing anything of how to produce cheese, or how to even think about marketing it.
T: We studied political science and then specialised in marketing and management. Our work before was in an office, so it would be difficult to find something in common between this and mozzarella.
T: Prague was full of Italian restaurants. We wanted to have a shop and situate the production in the city, because most foodstuffs are made outside the city, and it’s not easy for people to go there to see the food made. We dreamed of having large windows through which the production could be seen directly.
T: We knew that so long as we wanted to be here for the long-term, we needed to create a combination of ideas from abroad and local raw materials. We wanted to appeal to people, come out with something special, fresh, different from other foods. Today we are selling not only mozzarella but also other products that are typical of our region and of Italy in general.
T: The simplicity lies in the idea, which people will understand. Mozzarella is a very well-known cheese, with a long tradition of production, and here in the Czech Republic you have good milk. That’s a perfect combination; however, that is where the simplicity ends, and the challenge begins. For instance, to find people who are specialised in making mozzarella.
T: In our laboratory, as we refer to the production facility, work Italians, whom we have had to recruit from Italy. It is important to us that our cheese is made by Italians, because they have the experience with this traditional food. Master cheesemakers hand their profession down in the family; production is a family secret. In the shop, we employ both Italians and Czechs.
M: Finding appropriate people to be sales clerks is difficult for a couple of reasons. First of all, young Czechs cannot imagine such work as something for a lifelong career. They think of it as something to do for a while, to make some money. And second, we need more than someone who only sells mozzarella, but someone who knows how to connect with people.
The success of an enterprise is due not only to having a good product, but also a good mood, which you sense when you walk into the shop.
And that is simply missing in the Czech Republic. Here you are more likely to find the mozzarella than the sales clerk who can create the atmosphere.
M: That is the largest investment of all. You invest time, money, and energy, and then they, perhaps after three months, leave, and take with them what we taught them. They are seldom even aware of it. It is in the mentality. I was surprised when, at the end of a meeting with a potential employee, he said “I’ll let you know”. What do you mean that “you will let me know”? I will let you know! In Italy, it would simply not be normal that someone applying for work would tell a potential employer that he would let him know what he decides. So, I have no interest in working with such a person.
M: Well, above all, if an Italian has a good job, he will stay in it easily for the rest of his life. And another thing is that Italians work more. When I started working here, it took me at least a month before I grasped the concept of long weeks and short weeks. That was something completely new for me. Your long week is my normal week. When I realised that here people might work only three days a week, I said to myself that people are wealthy here, that this is a rich country. People here also sometimes lack vision. They work only so they may be able to go somewhere on vacation. In Italy it is different, in that if you work in a shop, that is your life’s calling. On the other hand, Czechs are fantastic in their willingness to be helpful. Italians are rather envious, that someone else came up with the idea before they did. They won’t help you. As for us, Czechs helped us a lot at the beginning.
M: Our second shop is in the vicinity of Anděl, but it doesn’t have a production facility. It is more of a marketing venture. For us it is a bit of a test, to open another sales outlet in a different part of the city, without production, and then see what it tells us. After a year and a half, the shop in Anděl is doing a good business. Nevertheless, our main thought is to grow, as we want to become the most significant producer of cheese in Prague.
We are striving to build a brand which people will recognise and associate with quality, freshness, and healthy food.
Our strategy is to expand the business and cover Prague, even with a view to future competition. That too is part of our strategic mix, to build and protect the company at the same time.
M: In the Czech Republic, it is absolutely simple to establish a company, even if, as a foreigner, you don’t understand the language. Here there is a lower tax burden, less bureaucracy, and a functioning market. To do business in the Czech Republic is easier than it is for Italians in Italy. We feel, however, that in the last few years the situation has been worsening. I am thinking, for example, of the EET statute. I hate the idea that someone is going to check on me. I am doing business, creating work for another fifteen people, and I think that I am contributing something to this country. And what do I get in return? Someone comes to my shop to do mystery shopping, to check whether I am properly complying with EET? I pay taxes and I have no problem with that, as I know that I have here public transport, healthcare, police… simply everything. After all, we entrepreneurs take risks every day, without any certainty. Today we have a business, tomorrow maybe we will lose it. We really are in a different category, and I think we should be treated differently.
M: When we came here, we had no special strategy, and not much money. The first thing that we strategically built was our “laboratory”, with the big shop window. We had leads on several locations, and we saw that at this location trams and cars stop at the lights, and people look out their windows. Everyone can thus see through the big window what we are doing, and it gets attention.
The second strategy was tastings. We gave out kilo after kilo of mozzarella in tastings.
No matter what explanation I give you, you have to experience it for yourself, form your own opinion. So, there needs to be a bit of a show.
We went to festivals and made mozzarella right in front of people. That’s how people have slowly learned about us. Titi and I work here every day and we know all our regular customers. We know what they love and try to put ourselves in their shoes. We sell more according to their taste than according to our need. That is truly important. Czechs are really good customers, because they trust you. Obviously, you have to provide good advice. It’s a big responsibility, and if you disappoint, you’re done. And we want to do this work for the rest of our lives, so our reputation is important. Today, the media are writing about us, which is the result of our many years of work and a good product. If our mozzarella was not good, the light that is shining on us would be extinguished.
M: God only knows. Certainly, we are putting all of our energy and all that we know how to do into this business, which has a future. Today, people are turning their backs on industrial products, in favour of craftsmanship. They want food without preservatives, fresh and local, instead of imported. Czechs too are starting to have greater respect for their own country.
From the start, people would come by and ask about buffalo mozzarella, to which I would respond: No, friend, in the Czech Republic you don’t have buffalos. You have cattle, and this mozzarella is from quality Czech milk.
Now they are beginning to understand that here there are also good things. And that it is not necessary to buy food in large quantity, such that it would last all week for you. I advise that they buy fresh produce which they will eat today and tomorrow. Like an Italian mama. Their job is to shop for food for the entire family. And thus, every day, they visit all the stores, so that they may buy the best meat from the butcher, vegetables from the green grocer, etc. And this is starting to happen here too.
M: Our idea is growing also thanks to the food revolution now holding sway over the Czech Republic. When we came in 2008, people here ate only because they had to; whereas today, ten years later, you can see that they eat for pleasure. They are looking for healthy, tasty, quality foodstuffs with a story or a history.
Mozzarellart. It is the first producer of handmade mozzarella in Prague. This shop and its concept of handmade products is unique in the Czech Republic. What is really noteworthy is its combination of “Italian tradition and Czech milk”, which enable the making of cheese of exceptional quality and freshness.
We always enjoy your comments
and opinions about the topics
of these articles ;-)