The beginnings of the Aloe brothers in London
A couple of weeks ago, in Clapham, the Aloe brothers’ London pizzeria reopened its doors. London now requires the closure of pubs and restaurants at 10pm – but could soon resort to even more drastic measures for containing the contagion. The project dedicated to pizza, born ten years ago on the outskirts of Bologna, arrived in London in 2018. From then many things have changed in the UK capital, and the last few months have launched a further gauntlet to the enthusiasm of Matteo and Salvatore, who now love London also for the difficulties it has posed to them: “We started designing the UK opening almost by chance five years ago, after meeting a girl who promised to introduce us to those who then became our partners, already large-scale restaurant entrepreneurs in London,” remembers Salvatore. The meeting put in place shared complementary skills, “we had the software and they had the hardware to make it run at its best.” This is how Radio Alice was born, a spin off of the Berberé pizzeria across the Channel, “struggling with one of the most competitive cities in the world, probably the one with the highest density of restaurants after Tokyo.”
What London taught us, from Radio Alice to Berberé
The sacrifices and experience gained there, not surprisingly, served to help us grow in Italy, too: “It was an important training ground, we structured ourselves, we understood many things. At the time we only had two branches, today they are twelve, distributed among the major Italian cities.” Precisely this awareness, at the beginning of 2020, had prompted the Aloe brothers to take the plunge, to take over the entire property of Radio Alice, and thus lead it to become the first Berberé pizzeria on English soil. An operation of emancipation of the brand which is a declaration of confidence in the London adventure, and which materialises with a few months of delay on schedule, despite the long lockdown (in London restaurants reopened only on July 5th) and uncertainty for the future: “For us it made sense to continue the London adventure, to give value to the human capital we cultivated over the years. At the dawn of the lockdown, the easiest choice would have been to give up everything, but it would not have been fair to the effort we put into it… If I think of all the planes taken at six in the morning to commute!” But behind the decision to invest in London there’s also a careful market study: “In the city there is a market for quality pizza; other pizza chefs have started to work in this sense, and this helps us. It will be a matter of biting the bullet, but it’s worth staying in such a competitive city, and also measuring ourselves against what will happen in the near future: from this moment on, we will pay greater awareness to consumer choices, more attention to quality products.”
A neighbourhood pizzeria in city on alert
After all, from the beginning Radio Alice (now Berberé) was able to exploit the characteristics of the neighbourhood in which it was born: “We are just south of the river, in a very residential area and well connected to the City, an area inhabited by young families. We thought we were working in a city where people come and you don’t see them anymore, instead we have built a loyal clientele.” And now this situation is even exasperated: “Today it’s impressive to walk around in the City, with many restaurants still closed and empty offices. The suburbs, on the other hand, are more populated than before, people go out into the neighbourhood, they eat out. It must be said that until mid-September, when I arrived in London, it almost seemed that Covid-19 didn’t exist: they almost looked at us with suspicion because we were wearing masks. Now they have tightened the rules, but the British have a very accentuated idea of individual freedom, which sometimes clashes with social guidelines. Conversely, they are much more organised. The first evening with forced closure at 10pm, the police came by at 10.05pm to check that we were respecting the rules.” The Clapham restaurant reopened after a restyling that was done during the summer, which made the space more Italian, always in the Berberé style. The pizza is always the one made with sourdough starter yeast and ingredients selected by trusted producers; the London menu consists of ten pies and a selection of fried dough to begin with, and a partnership with the beer firm Mikkeller is also confirmed, cleared through customs in the last restaurant opened in Milan, which, ironically, had opened only a few days before the lockdown.
The latest restaurant opened in Milan by Berberé (Photo by Bruno Gallizzi)
Berberé in Italy. Managing the twelve branches
“In the centre of Milan many important stores are still closed. We are convinced that you cannot stand only when you win, and this out of gratitude towards customers, but also to stay in their minds.” With twelve branches to manage, in cities that today each have their own problems, having a solid goal becomes fundamental: (think, offices in Milan are empty, the university in Bologna is still struggling to restart, Florence and Verona are without international tourism, etc.). “This terrible uncertainty makes planning very difficult. Fortunately, the pizza product is quite resistant to these events, but we’ve had a crazy slowdown, and even in these days the contraction is directly proportional to the increase in alertness. Pizza being the delivery product par excellence has also helped us to remain afloat. But we must hope that this will all end soon.” In the meantime, the whole Berberé team went back to work “We used the social support payments in the closing months and then we chose to get everyone back to work. We are working in financial loss, but we are experiencing it as an act of resistance, hoping that the health crisis will end soon. The brand cannot disappear, you have to be close to your customers.” And in the meantime we can continue to cultivate some dreams: “After London, we would also like to open in Northern Europe. A place that fascinates us a lot, and the collaboration with Mikkeller was also born in this direction.” The day will come when we will turn desire into reality.
by Livia Montagnoli