Grit, determination and a genuine connection with her customers earned Francesca Fargnoli a Moreton Bay Region Business Excellence & Innovation Award and it has not only kept her going during a tough year but helped her business thrive.
With COVID-19 ruling out this year’s awards, we’re shining a light on superstars from previous years and asking … what are they up to now?
Francesca won the USC Young Entrepreneur Excellence Award last year and has had to use the ingenuity that earned her that award to get through a tough few months … and she has with the help of her tight-knit family.
The Fargnoli family - parents Andrea and Marco, and children Francesca, Gian and Pascalle –opened Basil and Vine Italian Cafe in June 2018, with a belief that dining should be about sharing cuisine and creating special moments with family and friends.
So, when times got tough, they made the decision to create a positive vibe in the restaurant and work even harder to connect with customers.
Andrea says they were inspired by Kellogg’s during the COVID-19 shutdown. The cereal giant pushed forward during the Great Depression, unlike a competitor which pulled back and is no longer in business.
“So, that was our philosophy during COVID to aggressively push forward – to advertise (when it didn’t seem logical). Everyone else was panicking and shrinking back and we decided ‘no, we feel like this is an opportunity to go forward’,” she says.
That meant introducing delivery, actively promoting the business and embracing positivity.
“I think it was mostly marketing. We decided to be really positive, so we made a decision that when customers came in, and it was all doom and gloom, we chose to take the upbeat route in all of our conversations to make it a positive place,” Andrea explains.
“It was really intentional. We brought it to the staff’s attention, customers were probably having a bad day, they might have lost their job, there’s a lot of negativity happening – let’s be positive,” Francesca explains.
“We started the pay-it-forward coffees. If we could tell someone was having a bad day, we’d say this one’s on us and the customers started picking up on it and offering to pay it forward. That was really cool, seeing people interact in that way.”
Pascalle says the COVID-19 shutdown and shift to takeaway-only, for a while, gave them more time to connect with customers.
“People would come up and more than ever before, you found yourself having conversations with people over the counter, asking them about their lives. Through that, I feel that relationships with customers went through the roof and I feel we won a lot of people’s loyalty,” she says.
“Just being human, connecting with them and asking how their lives are going and what they’re going through.”
Andrea agrees: “That is definitely a core value. We definitely really want this place to be a little ray of sunshine, a place that is we feel like we’ve got so much joy and peace as a family and we want people experience that when they work here and we want people to experience that when they come here”.
Food is also key to that connection and something that binds the Fargnoli family. They recently spent an evening making gnocchi together to celebrate Pascalle’s 21st birthday.
Gian explains: “I think in almost every culture around the world, food is part of community – it’s a massive part. It’s one way to bring everyone together. A lot of people gather around certain hobbies and interests, whereas food is something we all have in common”.
“We’ve always prioritised family dinners – everyone together, no distractions – phones off the table, this is the time we all spend looking at each other’s faces and interacting with each other and doing it over a pleasant experience, which is food,” Andrea adds.
So, the aim at Basil and Vine Italian Café is for diners to feel as though they’re having a meal at the Fargnoli family home and they are so grateful customers are enjoying the experience.
“We’d just really like to thank our customers for supporting us. Every business is only there because it’s supported, especially during COVID which was a bit hairy and scary and we didn’t know what it was going to look like. There was that spirit of getting behind businesses in your area and we really appreciate that,” Andrea says.
“Honestly, we have some of the most loyal customers. We have staff who have come from other places who have said the customers here are incredible. We owe it to our customers because they’re the ones who purchase the food and keep us afloat,” Gian adds.
Basil and Vine Italian Café is at shop 1, 173 Station Rd, Burpengary. Phone 3888 5088 or visit basilandvine.com.au
There’s more on previous Moreton Bay Business Excellence and Innovation Award winners here