Walk down Corso Venezia, located in one of Milan’s posh areas at 6 pm, and you’ll be hard pressed not to notice the new restaurant and lounge making waves in the city.
Tartufi and Friends is the only restaurant chain in the world with a complete menu 100% dedicated to Italy’s crown jewel of food exports – The Truffle – or “tartufo” as you probably know it.
It is the brainchild of fashion mogul Alberto Sermoneta and I recently had a chance to sit down with the 36 year old entrepreneur, who turns anything he touches into gold. In fact, the Sermoneta family is quite famous in Italy for their luxury fashion roots, having launched prominent Italian brands on an international level through their distribution services.
It’s no wonder that from his offices in Rome, this charismatic businessman began to dream of how he could share his other passion with the world – food. A purveyor of fine objects, good wine and excellent food, to say he is someone that appreciates the finer things in life would be an understatement.
His deep love of Tuscany and Tuscan cuisine make the area one of his favorite vacation spots in the world to enjoy with his family. Being a man who loves his country, he had often contemplated why the French were so good at launching their products on an international scale, while many Italian goods remain tied to their local regions. He studied the “French way” of presentation and experience and developed the idea of a chic lounge to put a spotlight on the quintessential fungus of the Italian territory, truffles.
With his years of luxury fashion management under his belt, he knew the types of services that all customers crave, regardless of their economic standing. I experienced first hand how he greeted each and every client that entered into the restaurant and from our time together some of the most interesting take-aways were not necessarily about his restaurant but about his very Italian approach to customer service.
“Italians” he said “ are some of the most discerning customers, because they expect so much from every experience. If you can make in Italy, you can make it anywhere.”
In a 645 square foot space at the Spanish steps in Rome, the first Tartufi and Friends was opened as a luxury lunch spot and store offering more than 60 products including truffle honeys, infused oils, pates and preserves.
The key to the success of Tartufi and Friends is a warm and welcoming environment, so although you have a luxury price tag associated with dining there it is open and inviting for everyone from tourists to the connoisseur.
“We don’t want to be gourmet because we have a fantastic ingredient, we want to keep it simple. Customers have to understand what they are eating.”
As the first ever restaurant in the world 100% dedicated to truffles, it is no wonder that he soon garnered international attention from both investors and the gourmet world at large. Shortly after the Rome opening a Dubai investor approached Alberto and together they inaugurated a 6,000 square foot restaurant in the heart of Dubai.
Alberto extended the idea to Milan with the Corso Venezia location, followed by a 4th location in London through a collaboration with the prestigious Harrods.
When I asked him to describe his customers around the globe he had this to say:
“High spenders don’t have borders, they are not attached to a brand so much as to an experience. In Italy, the problem with a chain restaurant is that the critical nature of Italians is to compare each detail at one location with the next.
This isn’t actually a problem for me, since I see it as a challenge to ensure that every detail is perfect at each location. You cannot have 4 restaurants if you cannot guarantee the experience will be exceptional at each one”
The main challenge with Tartufi and Friends is the “materia prima” , the primary ingredient, which is difficult to manage and supply to 4 locations, not including their intention to expand into the American market with an eventual California location.
Truffles are 90% water, which is a very high percentage when compared to other root vegetables. At roughly 500 euro per kilogram, you’re looking at potential losses of thousands of dollars with each day that passes. Weight is money, so the key with this fungus is to sell the fresh tartufo as soon as it arrives.
Alberto’s work day begins at 7 am with calls to his Truffle Hunters throughout Italy, with special attention to his rare white truffle hunters in Alba from September to January. Once he has an idea of that day’s yield he will send the requirements to each location.
The key to his success and the real demonstration of the Italian entrepreneurial spirit comes with their exclusive line of truffle products, from pestos, white truffle butter, and infused extra virgin olive oil, the whole range is produced in the company’s Tuscany manufacturing plant and available world wide from their online store. The Italian truffle experience brought right to your door and at a relatively affordable price and a way to transform any truffles that are not sold fresh within the restaurants before they loose too much weight.
Every item on Tartufi and Friends menu is tested across each market to ensure availability of the freshest ingredients possible. I highly recommend you try one of their exclusive truffle based cocktails – The “Orient Express”, made with kumquat, Bellavista Prosecco, mandarin oranges, brown sugar and white truffle. It was nothing short of delish and absolutely unlike any other cocktail I’ve ever had, a perfect fusion of strong fresh white truffle and tangy citrus flavors, served with pre-dinner aperitivo of their signature dishes, it was a moment to savour.
Tartufi and Friends is the epitome of Italian ingenuity and the ability to transform a highly local product into an international success story.