The New Fusion Featured

Luxos meets business owners who have combined their passion for food with an appetite for something entirely different

This fall/winter season Luxos is celebrating people of passion, from design aficionados to horse enthusiasts, and those who have devoted their entire lives to a craft. But often in life our passions can have more than one inclination, with some of us finding inspiration and satisfaction in a variety of fields.

Small business owners are inherently passionate about what they do. They have to be. Owning a small business is full of challenges, and requires constant dedication and a substantial amount of time. Successful small business owners are those who are adaptable to change, are always aware of their clients’ desires, possess an obsessive attention to detail, and keep current on the changing trends within their industry.

Today, an ever-growing breed of small business owners is taking the retail concept to a whole new level. Known as hybrid businesses, these are businesses that combine distinctive business concepts under one roof. From New York to Sydney hybrid businesses are popping up everywhere, representing one of the most popular trends in retail today.

For our winter issue, Kudos visited with some of the hybrid businesses in Milan to hear about how they’ve combined their passions and how they decided on this unique business idea in the first place. Each of the three places we visited in Milan, however, have one passion in common…food. The restaurant/retail combination is a common one, and can often result in some surprising blends (a café and flower shop!).

We visited with the owners of Gattó, a clothing boutique and modern Neapolitan restaurant, chatted with the head chef at Pane e Acqua, a venue that combines design furniture with creative cuisine, and spoke at length with the florist at Fioraio Bianchi, the aforementioned bistro and flower shop. After speaking with the people behind each of these businesses, a few things became abundantly clear: all are dedicated, curious and creative people who run unique businesses with plenty of personality. And all boast a clientele made up heavily of foreigners and locals, and people from the creative industries with an appreciation of the emphasis on quality and authenticity.

Pane e Acqua is the brainchild of Rossana Orlandi who opened the restaurant in 2007 as an extension of her beautifully eclectic design gallery and retail space next door at Spazio Rossana Orlandi. Together with architect Paola Navone, Orlandi created a dreamlike space, featuring fantastical design elements like oversized green foam leaves and quirky furniture pieces (available for purchase).

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Francesco Passalacqua, the creative head chef at Pane e Acqua since 2008, and under whose management the restaurant is today. Passalacqua emphasizes quality above all else, and is passionate about creating original interpretations of traditional cuisine; food that is in line with the fantasy theme found throughout the restaurant and in the gallery next door. The menu changes every two months to reflect the changing seasons. “Produce is our reason for always changing”, Passalacqua reflects, in his discussion of the kitchen’s direct relationship with nature, and his love for discovery of new primary ingredients.

For Passalacqua the relationship between design and food is a natural one. Pane e Acqua is a window into the retail store, and there is an equal exchange of customers between the two. And because of the off-the-beaten-path location near Corso Magenta, the clientele is made up of people who seek out quality, not just because it is fashionable. According to Passalacqua, “ Spazio Orlandi gives us a window into the international world…these clients aren’t necessarily tourists, but rather those from the design sector. We are happy also that many young people come and that there is a discussion of quality. We are not necessarily fashionable, but attract people who are serious about food. We are a bit mixed, actually, between people who like the ambiance, and those who like the food”.

Mario and Lizzie Martinetti feel similarly about the clientele that frequents their restaurant and shop, Gattó. Also located in a non-shopping area (a largely residential area in the neighborhood behind Porta Venezia), both the shop and restaurant attract a diverse destination-bound crowd of those in-the-know.

The evolution of the space was a fairly organic process that began when Lizzie moved her travel agency there in 2004. There was a family discussion about what to do with the large space at the back, and her daughter Valeria suggested the idea of a restaurant. Valeria, in fact, ran the kitchen for several years before becoming a mother and turning over the reins to her sister, Angelica (Valeria now bakes the pastries). In 2006, the travel agency/restaurant hybrid was not up to code, so Lizzie turned to her other passion, clothes.

Inspired by their travels, Mario and Lizzie have created a particular retail space, managing to be both cozy and cool, and outfitted with a mélange of hand-made furniture and antique pieces brought from their house. The boutique carries clothes that are minimalist, unconventional and sophisticated, a bit like Lizzie herself, and features lines not otherwise found in Milan.

The concept behind the clothes, simplicity and quality, also extends to the kitchen. The menu changes daily, usually consisting of only a few select choices. Like Passalacqua, the Martinetti’s understand that good food is based on the fundamentals, and it is the quality of the ingredients that matters most. As Mario said, “If you buy the right things, it is difficult to cook bad things.” Interested in where they source their carefully selected products? Have a look at the back of the menu and it’s all listed for you. The cuisine is lighter-fare Neapolitan, and food that “you can eat every day.”

The last stop on our culinary tour of Milan was Fioraio Bianchi, where we had a chat with Raimondo Bianchi, legendary Milanese florist. A popular aperitivo spot with the international and creative crowd, Fioraio Bianchi is a delightfully elegant space where the flowers and food compete for center stage. Located in the beautiful Brera district, Bianchi moved his flower operation into the basement of the building, freeing up space for a restaurant, where “you can eat well…meet friends, buy flowers, or just look and enjoy.” As Bianchi said, “Lunch is a subdued time for sitting among walls of flowers”.

At Fioraio Bianchi, the same requirement applies to flowers and food: they should both be in season. For Bianchi, there is a beauty in the varying seasons in Italy, and it would be a shame not to appreciate it, which is why he believes that in October, when the flowers are finishing, it is better to have imperfect but honest flowers, rather than perfect imported flowers. The same goes for the food, honestly prepared and artfully presented by chef Marco Valneri, who uses only quality, seasonal ingredients.

When asked why he thought Fioraio Bianchi was so popular with foreigners, Bianchi responded that it was due to the personality of the place. He said that often places that have a store, restaurant, and bar end up being standardized, emotionless. There are few artisanal places left in Milan, and Fioraio Bianchi is one of them. In fact, he says the concept of the hybrid business is based on something very traditional…take the farmer who sells eggs and hens, then naturally expands based on other products the customers need. A concept steeped in history, yet surprisingly modern...

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