The past year has been tough on small business owners of all stripes, and particularly those in the food business who have had to close dining rooms and rely more than ever on takeout and delivery.
Nina and Cesare Agostini were no exception. Born in Canada to an Italian immigrant family, the siblings decided while still in their teens that entrepreneurship was the path for them. Summers spent in Italy with family had developed their love, not just for Italian cuisine, but for how the country’s culture and social fabric is woven around great food.
“Their entire lives are surrounded by food,” Nina said. “It is all about the food in a way we don’t see in Canada.”
As young adults, the siblings spent several years living in Italy, Cesare in Rome to master the art of pizza-making and Nina two hours away in Perugia where she focused on gelato.
They returned to Canada in 2017 and opened their restaurant, Farinella Eats, in Ottawa’s Little Italy in 2019 – nine months before the pandemic lockdown began.
“We had put so much work into this place, there was no way we were going to fail,” Nina said. “It just wasn’t an option … but luckily for us, we have a food that travels well.”
Fresh pizza by the metre and premium gelato – Farinella Eats’ first months in business saw lineups down the block. The team had to learn quickly how best to manage customer flow and drive efficiency. When the lockdown began, the team shrank and focused on how best to operate solely as a takeout and delivery operation.
Nina and Cesare knew all about the importance of hustling and being willing to adapt. In Italy – a country that has for years been struggling with a weak economy and double-digit unemployment – they had to constantly prove themselves to find and keep a job, and even worked for free for months at a time.
That same drive served them well through the pandemic as they taught their staff everything they knew. Earlier this year, Nina and Cesare felt the time had come where they could split the team and open a second location. The restaurant had reached the point where it would sell out every night and the location just didn’t have the space to increase its output.
“We knew we wanted to expand, we really wanted to build a name for ourselves,” Nina said. “Farinella Eats doesn’t have to be as big as a Pizza Pizza, but it definitely needs to be a household name.”
On May 1, the second location opened in Kanata North at 806 March Rd. Before deciding on this location, the siblings had also considered Barrhaven (and still are), so why Kanata first?
It helped that a commercial landlord in need of a long-term tenant had approached them about taking over a location in a renovated heritage building versus an undesirable strip mall.
“We took that as a sign,” Nina said. “There are a lot of families here and not a lot of restaurants. It’s just perfect. You come back from a hockey practice and order pizza by the yard. Kanata has already taken us in with open arms.”
Nina and Cesare are also waiting to see how a return to the conventional office will also impact business. At their first location, lunchtime had been the busiest time of day thanks to the local office crowd. With the pandemic, that mid-day crowd shrank, and a dinner-time rush took over. In Kanata North, the second location has begun strong with the dinner crowd, but there are a lot of offices nearby that will soon welcome back their teams.
Continued growth remains on the menu for this tireless duo – considered, prudent growth as restrictions ease and dining rooms can reopen. It’s all about quality, flavour and customer service. Only the best ingredients from around the world will do, regardless of whether they come from Italy.
“We do like moving fast, but we like to be cautious as well, because we want everything to be consistent at both locations,” Nina said. “We are only as good as the people we work with. As soon as we can see that the second place can run as well as the first, we will likely look at opening a third. We are in no rush, we like to build the restaurant, the community and the people we work with.”
By Leo Valiquette, photo by David Bolly