Interview Report - Sara, Pastry Shop, Turin (IT)

28 April 2021, 11.30 am - 12.30 pm

The young entrepreneur Sara ended up in the food business by chance. A few years earlier, she was getting her degree in History when she found out she was completely intolerant to eggs and dairy. As a result, she started experimenting with alternative ways to make her porridge for breakfast. Soon, she moved to cakes, biscuits and granolas. She started offering them to her friends and to invite them over to try her recipes, receiving enthusiastic feedback. Eventually, with her husband, Sara decided to turn her hobby into a business. In March 2020, she opened up a bakery shop in Turin, San Salvario district, just when the Covid-19 pandemic struck. As the city became empty during the long lockdown period, she and her husband continued to bake in the shop: “it was hard to stay alone in the shop the entire day, with the shutters down […]; to see just the police cars around, checking that people were staying at home”. Still, Sara and her husband managed to continue (and to increase) the volume of their business by engaging with customers via social media channels: “we feel the personal way we communicate makes the difference”. Throughout the duration of the first wave of the pandemic, they baked and delivered food, in the city and at nearby towns, with the help of a local start up delivery company: “I knew them personally, so I preferred just to reach out to them […]. It was challenging, as the cargo bikes were not the best way to deliver our “fragile” food. Shortbread cakes and similar items sometimes arrived damaged. We had to adjust our menu and to test different forms of packaging”. The food is in fact delivered in small cardboard boxes: “we have used the same local provider all along. I discuss and test different solutions and together we find the best and more sustainable packaging”.

Today, she personally delivers food in the city: “I feel it is the best way to ensure the food arrives undamaged. I drive by car, which is not at all a sustainable solution, but a bike simply would not work. We are adjusting our strategy as we go along in such unpredictable times. Still, when you personally deliver the food it is very rewarding, as you can see the happy faces of customers, especially when the delivery is a surprise”. She confirmed that there is a quite high percentage of loyal customers and, when asked about what she feels is the winning element, she replies: “I think it is the empathy, the way we communicate and tell our customers what we are doing in the shop and in the kitchen every day, with care”. Similarly, the interviewee explains that she feels that people just treasure such treats, especially during such difficult times. “I am always communicating via social media and this has helped me stay afloat but I miss seeing in front of me the moment when a person tries for the first time one of my pastries, to see my shop full of people”.

As far as the ingredients, she mostly buys from local farms and prefers organic food. As the pastries are produced in small quantities, the ingredients can be delivered to her shop by car and/or van. First of all, she explains, she wants to engage with small companies and to have a direct relationship with the owners. Jam and marmalade arrive from a farm located nearby Milan. The other providers are instead within the region (Piedmont). For the fresh flowers she put on top of pastries, she uses a local provider, which she claims was extremely active during the first lockdown thanks to an exceptional, non-stop delivery service. Every week she gets her flowers delivered on time.

Moving to the relationship with the neighbourhood, she recalled how at the beginning she was not planning to open up the shop in the San Salvario district. “Today I am happy, as it is a very vibrant place. Still, I would prefer to see more artisanal shops and workshops, and not only restaurants and bars open at night. Right now I am almost an exception in the block, and with the pandemic there is hardly anyone around. I hope to open the way to more small businesses that can animate the streets throughout the day”.

To finish, for the future she hopes to get a larger space to use to cook the products, while keeping the shop to accommodate customers. “It’s a nice little place that we want to keep homey and welcoming”.

Notes of the interviewer

I was warmly welcomed and, during the interviews, Sara and her husband engaged with all the customers in a nice, personal way. Several of the customers were recurrent customers and bought biscuits and other treats for their beloved ones – something they felt the need to share with the shop owners while asking for advice on which product to choose.

For the interview, we initially sat outside her shop and I granted permission to record the interview and to publish the content. She said she was fine not to be anonymous and that I could locate the shop more precisely, if needed. Due to loud construction work, we soon had to move inside the shop to continue. Nonetheless, this gave me the opportunity to have a closer look at the way she and her husband interact with on-site customers.