Sharing Success

Returning to Lucca: A Feast for the Senses

Thoughts from Dino Cortopassi, originally from August 1995


For Giovanna and me, our annual pilgrimage to my hometown of Lucca (Tuscany) is one of rejuvenation. As always, the highlight of this year’s trip was visiting with family and friends. But, being in the Old Country is also a feast for the senses. For example, we love to immerse ourselves in this very old, very charming little city. Lucca was originally an Etruscan village that the Romans later built into a town. As such, Lucca’s history covers more than 2,000 years and yet remains the living, breathing, dynamic center of the province!

It is satisfying to feel the marble steps worn smooth by countless years of use that climb two flights to our apartment. Our ears delight to hear the laughter of school children floating up to our open windows from the narrow street below. And being Italian, our taste buds are stimulated by the flavors and aromas of “la vera cucina.” If you have experienced the Old Country, you know that great food is found not just in elegant ristoranti, but in neighborhood trattorie, small specialty shops, and private homes.

One of our favorite pastimes is walking the winding cobbled streets and shopping at a favorite pasticceria (pastry shop), gastronomia (delicatessen), salumeria (cured meat shop), ortolano (green grocer), panetteria (bread shop), caffe (coffee bar), etc., etc! The magic in visiting these small businesses is the friendly conversation with the proprietario (owner), who invariably takes great pride in their work and superior quality offerings. (I see a similar enthusiasm in many of our restaurateur customers here at home!)

Take for example my cousin Mario Cortopassi, whose macelleria (butcher shop) is located in the suburb of Vignola. Mario is proud to tell you about the three different kinds of prosciutto he sells, from the Luccan style he cures himself, to Parma style (Parma is 100 miles east), to San Daniele style (San Daniele is 250 miles north), or about his homemade salami, his specially selected/prepared fresh meats, etc.

Like other independent shopkeepers, Mario refuses to offer anything other than superior quality, and as a result has attracted a clientele who will not sacrifice flavor by buying cheaper, lower quality meats. Mario’s passion is reflected in his oft repeated statement: “Se volete comprare a prezzi bassi, andate al supermercato. Se volete mangiare bene, venite da me!” (If you want cheap prices, go to the supermarket. If you want to eat

well, come to me!) Like Mario, all of these successful independent food providers understand that superior flavor costs more, but it’s worth more!

Another of the five senses that we enjoy is the sight of beautiful food presentation, where each shopkeeper tastefully displays a veritable “feast for the eyes.” This practice is also followed by ristoranti and trattorie, with ingredient mosaics of fresh vegetables and well known, high quality packaged goods to be used in preparing that day’s offerings. Such displays enhance patrons’ enjoyment of the upcoming meal and prove the restaurateur’s commitment to flavor by the quality of ingredients used.

Which leads me to a conclusion. As an Independent restaurateur, your competitive advantage is to provide your patrons with superior flavor compared to “supermarket” type chains. If you’re already buying superior quality ingredients, I suggest that you display that commitment to your patrons by tastefully displaying those ingredients just like your “Real Italian” counterparts do!

After all, since you already know that superior quality costs more (because it’s worth more), demonstrate that commitment to your patrons and two good things will happen. They will understand and appreciate why your food tastes better, and they won’t expect you to match the lowest price in town.

Then, like my cousin Mario, you too can proudly say: “If you want cheap prices, go to the supermarket. If you want to eat well, come to me!”