September 28 is World Poke Day, and the day after Vittoria Zanetti will be on the stage of Italian Tech Week, at the OGR in Turin (here all the details), to talk about it. Better: talk about Poke House, his startup, which contributed to its success and spread in Italy (and beyond) typical hawaiian dishusually made from marinated raw fish.
“When I left my job and left a safe job to embark on this adventure, I think my parents wanted to kill me”: she tells us, smiling, a little joke and a little no. From his words, we understand that this showdown with the family must not have been easy, but we also understand more: 4 years, 25 million investments, 1000 employees and 130 restaurants later, we realize that she was right.
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This decisive meeting
Zanetti, fresh in his thirties, is co-founder and executive director of Poke House: “With Matteo Pichi, we founded it in April 2018 – he recalled with us – At that time he worked as national director of Glovo and I in the marketing department of Calzedonia, first in Milan and then in Verona”. And yet, they both wanted to do something else. Especially her: “I’ve always wanted to work in the world of catering, to open my own restaurant. I was working, because I had to show my parents that I was doing something, but my mind was elsewhere”. The meeting with Pichi was decisive, and according to her, this is one of the reasons for the recipe for a success that is difficult to reproduce: “Professionally, we completed each other. And being different, having different skills and abilities, helped us bridge each other’s gaps.” The second ingredient obviously has to do with food. Heard just like the type of food offered: “My love for poke was born between late 2017 and early 2018, I discovered it in the United States, often making trips to Florida and California – he told us entrusts, talk on the phone from miami – In Italy, there was practically none, and above all there was no concept of a bowl, that is, the bowl in which to put all the ingredients. So I decided to bring these dishes, these colors, this feeling to our country”.
The hunch proved correct: the latest report from Growth capital shows that poke outlets in Italy have increased by 140% compared to 2021 and that the market is generating a turnover of 328 million euros (+117% over 2021). Today, Poke House has over 130 restaurants spread across Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, UK, Romania and USA (there are 7, obviously in California and Florida) and took over two other companies in the sector, in Austria and Holland. Contrary to what one might think, none of the stores are franchised, which is why the employees have grown to around a thousand, and probably the third reason for the success as well: “The restaurants are ours, and that allows have full control over what we do, to take better care of the products and to offer a better service”. And also to overcome some of the skepticism that was created around the poke, as the broadcast progressed: how to combine quantity and quality? “We are obsessed with quality, starting with that of food, and we select raw materials with extreme care, from salmon to other fish, including the vegetables that accompany them,” Zanetti replied. And the fact that employees are addicted certainly helps“Instead of thinking about their earnings, as do those who are in franchise, they think about the good of the company, even in the management of food and its care, for example without reusing leftovers but perhaps be more suitable”.
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Beyond lockdowns and closures
In just over 4 years, Poke House has raised 25 million euros in funding (and more will come), but the path has not always been easy and arduous: “The the first phase of the pandemic was very harsh – Zanetti admitted during our chat – We had been born for about a year and a half, we were ready to receive an investment of 5 million that would have allowed us to turn around, and suddenly it was a disaster. March 2020, lockdown, all the restaurants closed, no one around and the lenders pulling out and dumping us: I seriously thought we wouldn’t make it.” So what? “And then, in less than 24 hours here we are invented from scratch 3 brands for food deliverywith their menus, their graphics, their formats and we went online”. It worked, the investors came back and the company not only remained standing, but it grew. it is both the worst and the most beautiful memory of this young entrepreneur, who never stopped dreaming: “We want to become the McDonald’s of healthy eating,” he confessed.. Using an oxymoron she seemed well aware of.