SINGAPORE — As a proud card-carrying member of team Da Paolo, learning that they’re opening a new outfit at Great World gave me cause for unbridled joy. Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoy writing at the Raffles City outlet—you never forget your first love, I say—but to witness the unveiling of a brand new store of a brand that has come to know my coffee order and favourite writing spot by heart is, in a word, exhilarating.
The curious legacy of Da Paolo Gastronomia sustains till today, even while the F&B scene is fraught with uncertainty and good quality employment is hard to come by. It makes what Da Paolo has done as a pioneer in this scene for the past 32 years an excellent case study in tenets of tenacity and marketing rigour. I spoke via email to Francesca Scarpa, head of product management and marketing of the Da Paolo group for the past 11 years, to find out what it’s like to run a business of food and family and what success means to a storied institution such as this.
How would you describe what you do to someone you're meeting for the first time?
As the Head of Product Management and Marketing at Da Paolo Group, together with my team, we determine what we sell and how we sell it while enabling meaningful connections between our customers and the brand through food and experience.
How do you define success in F&B, and how close is Da Paolo currently to that definition?
I think one of the markers of success in F&B is time. It is withstanding the test of time, riding through the economy’s ups and downs, battling the field of ever-increasing competition while evolving with time and transcending generations. Keeping the loyalty of a brand’s early customers over decades is a testament to the brand’s consistency in its quality, while the brand’s ability to remain relevant means the business is continuing its growth.
Da Paolo is 32 years old now. I’ve met many customers who remember my parents serving them many years ago. I’ve met peers who have told me they’ve grown up eating our food and are now introducing their little ones to Da Paolo. It warms my heart to see their children (and mine!) enjoying our pizza, pasta and gelato.
What is it about the business of food that gets you most excited?
What gets me most excited is the adrenaline in adapting to the ever-changing landscape, identifying new trends, connecting with customers, and seeing them back at the outlets time and time again. Occasions are also big for us here at Da Paolo, and my favourite time of the year has to be Christmas.
There is a lot of work that goes behind the preparation for the season. My team and I work with my brother, our Group Executive Chef, Andrea Scarpa, to develop the festive menu. I love the adrenaline—from the rush to prep to the rush to stock our shelves. It’s also a nice feeling to be at the shop and help customers settle their festive menu or pick items for their gourmet gift hamper. I think this is one thing my mother—who has since retired—still enjoys doing. I encourage my marketing team to do the same, as there is so much more to learn when you meet customers. There’s much more to talk about at Christmas time, and people are in a special mood. This season gets us all excited!
What was the most valuable lesson you've learned from running Da Paolo as head of product management and marketing for the past 11 years that you're applying to the setting up of this new venture at Great World City?
What we have learnt over the years is that diners seek a break. They want to take a micro-holiday from their daily life through food, design, and music. More so in today’s climate where travel is, at the moment, a secondary idea left for necessity. Still, wanderlust takes over, and everyone is looking for a haven or getaway, even if it’s for a few hours.
For Da Paolo Gastronomia at Great World, we’ve taken inspiration from Tuscany – from the signature olive groves to the classic Mediterranean courtyard, the conviviality of the piazza, and the alleys of the markets by the piazza in the small towns. We want to transport customers to Tuscany to experience the ‘Everyday Italian’ life.
Having worked closely with your family for some time, what advice would you give to another F&B entrepreneur keen on working on a business with a family member?
Each family member in the business must have a function and should be focused on that alone. Sometimes, familiarity makes it hard not to intervene, but it’s best to define clear boundaries for each family member, knowing that each is best at what they do.
When there is a decision to be made, or something to resolve, a meeting with all family members can be arranged to talk things out. It’s always good to be clear from the get-go who will make the final decision at the end of the day, even if not everyone agrees to it.
One great thing about working with family members is knowing them really well prevents misunderstandings. It can be hard to keep work and family life separate, but with time, it becomes so much part of your life that you don’t even realise it. And on the other hand, when you want to take a break, you know you can switch off because you can trust your family member to hold the fort while you’re away.!
What does the word 'legacy' mean to you?
It’s the story you leave behind long after you are gone. In my case, it is my contribution to a project that was created before me and hopefully will continue long after.
When you look at the state of dining in Singapore today, what is the one thing that gives you hope?
The variety and quality of the dining scene here are both increasing relentlessly. The sophistication of the restaurants’ offerings coupled with Singapore’s well-known passion for food has created an environment where there are endless opportunities for operators focused on delivering excellent guest experiences.