Finding the Silver Lining: Lasagna Lab
The COVID reality set in just as they were about to sign a lease for their new business, but with careful planning and preparation, Alessio and Mattia opened Lasagna Lab in July this year, just days before Melbourne went back into hard lockdown.
We spoke to Alessio, the front of house half of the business duo, about their experience opening a restaurant in 2020, their simple business philosophies and their incredible initiative to help those struggling this year.
The origin story.
What happened was we had this idea over a year ago, myself and Mattia, and we were in the process of looking for a place, how much we were going to spend, putting the budget together, etc.
It started as a small window, then it turned into a small restaurant and then we finally found a place…we were ready to rock.
Mattia was working a bit as a casual chef, and started working at the Ferrari stand at the Grand Prix. I remember it was a Friday and I was on my way to the office to sign the lease. Mattia called me and I was maybe 5 minutes away from signing.
He said, ‘don’t go inside’ and I said ‘what are you talking about we have been planning this for such a long time, looking for equipment, we’ve paid for the fridge and you don’t want me to go inside, what’s going on?’
He said ‘don’t sign anything. They’ve just stopped the Grand Prix because of the virus.’ So, we didn’t sign luckily, and then we put everything on hold.
A few months of lockdown later…
We managed to find a place – 184 High St – and then we just looked at each other and said there’s never a good time to invest! We definitely picked an interesting time, but it was either we do it or not and we just said let’s do it. [Meanwhile] In the process of that, lasagna became sort of a national dish…everyone started making lasagna and we were like ‘Come on guys! Out of all the dishes!’
I thought well if there’s demand for that it means it’s a good market. Let’s not be shy!
Benefitting from lockdown 2.0
We were launching on the 20th of July, and we invested in cutlery, plates, glasses, everything needed for dining in. It was the week before or so before we were told we had to go through another lockdown. Somehow, it was good because it gave us more time to understand the demographic of the area and the response to our product.
“I won’t lie to you, it was actually really good.”
Now we aren’t scared to open to the public, we were quite happy not to do it. We wanted to have the simplicity behind the philosophy of what we have – people can walk in, they will have lasagna, a glass of wine and go. It’s not the full dining experience where you sit down and have an aperitif, starter, main course and dessert. It’s literally ‘Hi, how are you, I will have a lasagne, I will have a coffee, a glass of wine, limoncello, thank you very much.’
Really easy, really casual. There’s no rules.
Facing the challenges of new business.
There are always difficulties in terms of doing a business. There’s a lot of challenges, every day you learn something new.
I think the main one is to keep the energy and the momentum alive. Having that feeling that ‘yes it’s going to work, yes it’s fantastic, yes the lasagna product that we do is awesome, the wine offering is awesome’.
It’s really good with Mattia because he’s in the kitchen and I’m in the front. He creates the dish and I test it. I do something [front of house] like try the new wine, try the new beers and we test it. We blend it together and we kind of give each other energy.
“The main challenge is to keep the momentum alive.”
Apart from that there’s obviously financial issues, the bureaucratic part which, again, is a learning process. There were things that we didn’t budget for, a lot of things we didn’t schedule and a lot of things we didn’t consider.
I think 80% of the things we have faced, we didn’t consider on day one. It’s all relative to what you’ve got to offer, what your product is and what area you’re in as well. We’re really lucky to be in High St – makes us a bit more unique – a bit of a hidden gem in the area.
The Essential Kit.
Our generation, we’ve never faced something like this [the COVID-19 pandemic].
It is a reality. A lot of people were stressed…There are people out there who were and are struggling to sustain a daily living with basic essentials on a weekly basis. We wanted to give eggs away, milk away, rice away – the essentials. So, we said let’s create the Essential Kit.
We called the ATO and managed to get in contact with a few people and we said we’ve opened a company, we don’t have an income, we have a loan to pay, we don’t pay ourselves, are we entitled to get JobSeeker? They said yes. Half of the JobSeeker that we get, we use to create the Essential Kit. It comes from the bottom of our hearts to say listen, we really want to help.
We know that sharing is truly caring, so let’s appreciate the small things we can do for each other. It doesn’t take much, so let’s start with one small step and a fresh mindset.
“We’re here to help not just by giving the Essential Kit, but if you want to talk, anything at all, we’re here.”
We’re lucky enough that we don’t have many expenses. And even if we save money now, there’s not much you can do, we can’t travel or anything. We’ve got a kitchen here so we eat here every day, so we’ve got enough to eat and drink, to pay our rent and whatever’s leftover we put together to create this.
The Lasagna Lab philosophy.
We do things according to our philosophy which is focussed on the product we use. We really focus on sharing the branding as well. For example, every lasagna we have has a story.
The wagyu beef lasagne is made with sher wagyu beef, which is one of the three families in Australia that have fullblood wagyu beef. The porcini is vegetarian, vegan and gluten free and is made with vegan cheese sourced locally.
In terms of beers we only go through small breweries, directly to them, we don’t go through big companies. That’s the kind of support we do.
“We’re pretty sure there’s nothing like what we do out there, and we’re really proud. Yesterday we celebrated the first three months and you know, we can’t complain.”
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