Interview with Marco Zanatta of Zanatta Caffè

Zanatta Marco, owner of the Caffetteria Centrale in Silea and founder of the Zanatta Caffè brand and the Zanatta SWEET & SAVOURY brand. Marco was born in Treviso in 1970 – the fruit of the love between Daddy Plinio and Mummy Lidia. Marco’s family was a normal one: his mother a housewife and his father a worker. After finishing primary school, Plinio decided that Marco, like his sister Antonella, should be given the opportunity to attend a private secondary school and enrolled him in the Pio X Institute in Treviso. The impact with the new reality shocks Marco, who, however, shows good learning skills and a good relationship with his teachers. However, something troubled him. He feels that he does not belong to a particularly select environment – such as that which such a prestigious institute has in store for him – and he misses his friends from the neighbourhood. This hidden unease that Marco feels does not escape Mama Lidia and Papa Plinio. Suddenly and unexpectedly, one morning Marco gets into the car with his mother to go to school, but the road is not the same and neither is the building where Lidia stops the car. Marco returns to the school benches of his town and finds his childhood friends. A turning point that will mark his personal and professional life forever. Among his schoolmates Marco met a beautiful young girl called Manuela: the woman who would become his wife twelve years later. In 1984, listening to the advice of his professors, Marco, although oriented towards artistic studies, chose to undertake a professional path and enrolled in the Hotelier Institute Giuseppe Maffioli in Conegliano, following courses in the cooking sector. In 1989 Marco graduated as a cook and was ready to enter the world of work, having already signed a seasonal contract for a restaurant in the tourist town of Jesolo. Unfortunately, fate dealt him and his family a terrible blow with the premature loss of his father Plinio. Marco decided to stay by his mother’s side and look for a more territorial job.

The loss upsets Marco but generates an unexpected reaction in him and the awareness that the future rests on his shoulders. The most important call of his life suddenly arrives. Manuela, the girl he had met when he was very young and with whom Marco had established a more than friendly relationship, contacted him to offer him a job as a counterman at the famous and elegant restaurant “Ai Soffioni” under the Loggia in Piazza dei Signori in Treviso. Marco accepted and the meeting with the managers at the time proved decisive for Zanatta’s professional future. In 1995, on 27 May, Marco and Manuela crowned their dream of love and got married. It was a love story that had begun twelve years earlier, during their school days, and which found its fulfilment in the happiness of both. In January 1997, Marco and Manuela received a very interesting offer: to take over the management of the Caffetteria Centrale in Silea. The café was owned by Renzo Taffarello, and had been run by several different managers without ever really taking off. The young couple accepted the challenge and opened their new business on 8th March 1997. The first few years were not easy, but Marco and Manuela, with the help of their family, managed to emerge and break through to the hearts of the Silesi. In 2001 Marco, with foresight, bought the building that houses the Cafeteria. The work continued with almost unexpected success and Marco increased his staff with new recruits. Soon the Caffetteria Centrale became a point of reference for the whole town. In 2013, the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis began to make itself felt, even in their own sector. But Marco’s character, confidence and positivity, which have always distinguished him, pushed him towards a further challenge. Against all odds, Marco decided to broaden his offer and the range of possible customers. He therefore transforms his Personal Branding, centred only on his personal figure, into a broader entrepreneurial Brand. In 2013 he founded the Zanatta Caffè brand, personally studying and selecting the origin and blending of the raw materials. He relies on a historical collaborator: the Galliano Caffè roasting company in Quinto di Treviso. The launch on the market proved positive and Marco’s courage was soon rewarded. In 2018, Marco associated the Zanatta SWEET & SAVOURY brand with the Zanatta Caffè brand. Another intelligent intuition which completes the company’s offer by uniting two complementary worlds: coffee and biscuits. In 2018 Marco was contacted by Alessandro Angelon, Managing Director of an important company producing and supplying croassanteria products, to talk about his professional experience. Marco accepts and presents to a selection of students from Italian hotel institutes his Master’s course entitled: From Dream to Business Reality. A parenthesis that brings him closer to the world of young people and gives Marco the opportunity to pass on his story, experience and professionalism to aspiring business managers. In 2019 Marco, who is very active in the social and public sector, founded together with other traders and professionals in the area, the association A.I.C.A.SA. APS (Associazione Imprenditori Commercianti Artigiani Silea – Association of Silea traders and entrepreneurs), taking the reins as President. The association deals with the territorial, commercial and economic promotion of the activities present in the Municipality of Silea, through aggregative, cultural and communicative initiatives. In 2021 the A.I.C.A.SA association, ASCOM and the Silea Town Council concentrated their forces and set up Silea Terra d’Acqua: a public-private association, entrusting the presidency to Marco Zanatta. This marked the start of a project in favour of the commercial community, which reached its zenith when it was granted DUC status, allowing its members to identify Silea as an Urban Trade District. Marco’s commitment to social issues also manifests itself through support for local associations such as: ADELANTE, which assists children with Down’s syndrome, and others, providing concrete support to families. He also allocates part of the company’s turnover to support various local sports projects. Today, twenty-five years after the start of his adventure, Marco Zanatta continues his work in the cafeteria and manages the company administration with the same passion as on the first day of opening, alternating his presence in the cafeteria with his countless public and private commitments. The company now has twelve employees, more than twenty product references, several points of sale and a constantly growing turnover.

Who is Marco Zanatta?

I am a fifty-one year old man married to Manuela for twenty-six years, after a ten-year engagement. Our life together started when we were teenagers and still gives me the same emotions and feelings that have intertwined our lives. I was born from the union of Mum Lidia and Dad Plinio, two extraordinary parents who I will never cease to thank for what they were able to pass on to me: principles that I have never stopped following throughout my life. I have a sister Antonella, two wonderful nieces and nephews and two lovely great nieces and nephews. I consider myself a quiet person who bases her existence on fundamental values such as: humility, respect for others and altruism. If I can, I try to help those who are less fortunate than me or who have not had the same opportunities in their professional and private lives. I feel that I am a particularly lucky person, who has been able to take life’s teachings and treasure them. “Don’t be afraid to be brave” are the words that have accompanied me, and will continue to accompany me, throughout my journey. A thought that I try to convey to the many people I meet in my private and public life.

What was the study path taken by young Marco Zanatta?

After primary school I had the good fortune, thanks to the encouragement of my parents, to get to know two different secondary schools that shaped my character and in some way conditioned my future choices. I began by attending a well-known public school in Treviso: the Pio X Institute. Dad had a simple and dignified job, but he wanted the best for us children. He decided to give me the chance to attend one of the best institutes in the province. My results and my relationship with the teachers were very satisfactory, but I felt that I did not belong to that particularly select world. My mother’s intuition and my father’s love made it possible for me to go back to Marco Polo Middle School in Silea, together with my old friends. I would have liked to dedicate the next few years of school to studying art. But I followed my teachers’ advice and chose a vocational school. I therefore opted for the Giuseppe Maffioli Hotel Institute in Castelfranco, following the training course to become a cook. During this period, in addition to cooking, I also developed a strong interest in the Sala-Bar sector, which aroused an unexpected fascination in me. In addition, by combining teaching and apprenticeship, I was able to gain awareness and be ready to enter the world of work. After three years of study and a diploma as a cook, I wanted to continue for the next two years to complete my training. Unfortunately, in June 1989, we suffered the premature loss of my father. I was eighteen years old and my mother was left alone to take care of her family. I decided to finish my studies and look for a job to provide concrete support to the family. My father’s death was a tragic and difficult moment. But it made me grow in character and as a man. I found within myself the awareness and courage that Father had passed on to me throughout my life. Through his examples, his looks and his silences, he was able to transmit more than a thousand words. I like to think that this strength, which grew inside me and which I still keep in my spirit, was nothing more than Dad’s last gift to me.

Do you remember your first steps into the world of work?

After the loss of Dad in 1989 I had found a job as a seasonal cook in the tourist town of Jesolo. Everything was ready for my departure, when I met Manuela during a walk in the centre of Treviso. At that time Manuela and I had agreed on a break in our relationship. However, our affection remained unchanged. Manuela was worried that I would have to leave my mother alone and told me that the bar where she worked was looking for a barman to join its staff. I immediately accepted, happy that I would be able to stay with my mother. I was hired after an interview with Mr. Motirosso Renato, who, together with Ms. Lorena, owns the bar “Ai Soffioni” in Piazza dei Signori in the centre of Treviso. An elegant and refined café with a particularly select clientele. Initially, my inexperience, my young age and the historical nature of the place caused me some difficulty. But thanks to Mr Montirosso’s great professionalism and his teachings, I managed to overcome the most critical and difficult moments. I will always thank Renato for having been my mentor and for having believed in my abilities right from the start. A few months later I was entrusted with tasks of responsibility, which I would never have thought could be delegated to such a young and inexperienced boy. Our working relationship lasted nine years, during which I had the opportunity to learn and grow both professionally and personally.

When did your passion for coffee begin?

Let’s just say that I have two great passions in my heart. One matured at a young age and the other grew up in the work environment. The first one I am referring to is certainly cooking. I have always had a particular interest in artistic works and all expressions of art. I consider cooking to be a wonderful path of transformation and creation. Imagine a simple food that magically becomes a work of art and is presented as such. I have always been fascinated by the imagination and creativity that every great chef, or small cook, manages to convey when presenting their dishes. A canvas of colours and sensations that only passion, dedication and study can paint. The second, of course, has become coffee: my reason for living. This passion developed during my work experience at the “Ai Soffioni” coffee shop. I realised that the preparation and service of a good coffee was not limited to the simple use of a machine. Behind every cup there is a story and a fascinating preparation worthy of being told to the customer. The origin of the single bean (important for deducing quality and taste); the composition of the blend (whether single origin or made up of several selections); roasting and cooling times; grinding (coarse or fine), weight (important for an adequate dose of product); maintenance and cleaning of the machine (essential for an excellent final result) and the art of preparing a coffee that only the skill, experience and hand of the Barista can guarantee. All this fascination grew inside me and made me more and more curious, to the point of pushing me to undertake various training courses and increase my knowledge of this ancient and fascinating drink.

When do you decide it is time to take a risk?

I would not speak of risk, but rather of courage. The word and feeling that has always accompanied me through life’s challenges. I had been working with Manuela at the “Ai Soffioni” café for nine years and we had been married for two. One day I received an unexpected visit from a dear friend, Riccardo Schiavinato. Riccardo suggested that I consider taking over the management of the Caffetteria Centrale in Silea, owned by Mr Renzo Taffarello. The café had changed hands a few times over the years but had never managed to take off satisfactorily. We were known to the owner, our customers at the Soffioni, who was pushing hard for us to come in and take over the café. After discussions with Manuela, we decided to accept this challenge and hand in hand create our future. The separation from Mr Montirosso and the “Soffioni” was very difficult. But Renato never failed to support us, especially in the first months of opening.

Do you remember your fears?

Yes, of course. When you go through significant changes and decide to embark on an entrepreneurial path such as ours, there are of course concerns. I don’t like to talk about fears, because I am convinced that fear does not help us face the challenges that life holds in store for us. I prefer to talk about courage: the courage not to be afraid. The greatest anxiety was not being accepted by the Silesi. We had come from an experience in a club in the centre of Treviso and we had learned a rigorous working method based on a particularly elegant and refined style. We were worried about intimidating new customers. Our anxieties proved to be well-founded during the first few years of business. However, as time went by, things improved and our new travelling companions began to appreciate us for who we were and what we could offer – with or without a tie.

How do you overcome fears?

In order to overcome any fear, it must be transformed into an opportunity for growth and, if necessary, change. In our case, we made a very precise choice. We put ourselves at the disposal of the territory and its needs, adapting to its demands. Many times the mistake we make is to focus on what seems right and proper to us, without a broader view of the situation. We do not necessarily have to follow a precise textbook orthodoxy. But we do need to be ready for any innovation that the market requires: to diversify our approach, reception and service strategies. Fears and difficulties must be faced, studied, understood and overcome. We must not and cannot allow ourselves to be intimidated by the first obstacles. Preparation, planning and diversification are the weapons at our disposal. Time, passion, dedication and professionalism will be rewarded and accepted. As in our case: when, after years of getting to know each other, we were able to return to present ourselves with the style and elegance that today distinguishes Caffetteria Centrale di Silea.

How important was the support of the family when making difficult choices?

I consider myself a very lucky man. I have always had moral, ethical and educational support from my family, which has helped me in all my decisions. Dad Plinio and Mum Lidia have never let me lack their support and freedom of choice. They have always encouraged and spurred me on to follow my ideas and convictions, giving me courage and initiative without putting obstacles in the way of my desire to emerge. Even in the saddest moments our family has experienced, I have never perceived mistrust or fear for the future I was building for myself. Then Manuela appeared in the path of my life: my real strength, the shoulder on which I leaned and continue to lean. Many people do not believe it is possible to work and share the same life. But in reality there are tangible examples that this combination is possible. The important thing is to be able to separate the two worlds and never be absent from each other. I can firmly state that I would probably not be able to live and talk about this wonderful adventure today if I did not have an extraordinary woman like Manuela at my side. Last but not least, I cannot forget two people who have dedicated their time and heart to our project in the same way: Manuela’s parents. The first years of activity were really hard to cope with. The hours in the cafeteria were endless, and the tasks were countless. First Piera and then Eliano made themselves available by supporting us with their work in all the necessary tasks. I remember that period very well, when our families would gather from the early hours of dawn until late at night. Today my in-laws are no longer with us, but their memory remains indelibly in my heart. Every day I dedicate to them, and to my father, a thought of affection and gratitude for all they have done for me and for Manuela.

Were there any particularly difficult moments during your career?

The biggest difficulties in our sector, as in many other professions, come above all from relationships with people. Personally, there have been times when I have found it difficult to relate to people with whom I could not get along. But experience, dialogue and a positive spirit have always helped me to overcome these character adversities. From a professional point of view, I remember the post-crisis period of 2008, when the aftermath of the economic crisis and the loss of many jobs began to affect the café-bar sector. But as I often like to remind myself, we must be able to seize, even in difficulties, the possibility that they represent an opportunity for growth and development. At that time, contrary to what was advised, I decided not to stand still and to react. I transformed what had previously been a ‘Personal Branding’ based and centred only on our figures, into a Brand that went beyond Marco and Manuela. I therefore decided to found the Zanatta Caffè brand and invest resources and energy in this project. Today, twenty-five years later, I can consider myself satisfied and proud of not having given in to the obstacles that inevitably arise along the way.

We know that, in addition to your profession, you are very involved in other equally important areas such as solidarity, sport and associationism among businesses in your municipality. Can you tell us something about it?

Living a territory means participating in and sharing the many initiatives that the place itself, and the people who live there, propose and create. I have had the good fortune, thanks to our activity, to know and meet many of the people who are the protagonists of these realities. I have chosen to devote myself to them, in the conviction that I can give back a part of all that this wonderful city has given me. There are sports, solidarity and cooperation associations that must be supported and made known so that they can continue their work for the benefit of many. Thanks to a very dear childhood friend, Piero Pool, who suffers from Down Syndrome, I got to know the ‘Adelante‘ association: led with great dedication by its President Matteo Nadali. Adelante is mainly concerned with supporting young people and their families. Together we organise events and meetings to promote fundraising and to make the association known to the residents of Silea and beyond. An experience that gives me new emotions every day. Paradoxical as it may seem, it is perhaps more what we receive than what we try to give these children. Their expressions of affection and the sincere love they transmit fill our hearts and repay us for all our efforts. Talking to many parents, a common concern emerges: talking about their children’s future at the inevitable moment of separation. With Adelante we try to answer this question, guaranteeing, as far as possible, security and relative serenity for these families. As far as sport is concerned, we support local teams. They are very important for us in Silesia, for our children and for all those who participate in them. In the economic and commercial sphere, there is no lack of initiatives and our commitment meets that of many other entrepreneurs and traders in the area. We have founded the association “AICASA“, which stands for “Associazione Imprenditori Commercianti Artigiani Silea” (Association of Silea Entrepreneurs, Dealers and Craftsmen), with the aim of making ourselves known within our municipal boundaries. We promote joint advertising, communication and territorial promotion initiatives. We are active in various sectors and have about eighty members. As President of AICASA, I feel responsible for this role and for the trust that our members have placed in me. Today, AICASA, ASCOM and the municipal administration of Silea have joined forces in a common project, giving life to the public-private association called “SILEA TERRE D’ACQUA” and obtaining official recognition from the Veneto region as a DUC: Urban Trade District. I have also been entrusted with the role of President of this association and I hope to live up to the expectations and trust that the administration and members have placed in me.

How do you choose collaborators and suppliers, and how do you deal with them?

The relationship with my collaborators is fundamental. I have been lucky enough to meet some extraordinary people during my career. Past and present collaborators have been and continue to be the pillars of our business. They have been with us for many years and pass on their professionalism and passion to newcomers. I believe it is essential to establish a constructive dialogue right from the start in order to understand the expectations and spirit that motivates a candidate to join our team. The employee must represent a resource for the company and not a mere cost to the company. If my employee has the will to embark on a common path and achieve shared objectives, he or she will find all the cooperation and support that a good employer owes to his or her partners. This is what I look for in each of them: the desire to grow together, to achieve common goals that go beyond a simple paid service. I always leave a lot of room for manoeuvre to my young people so that they can also make mistakes and learn from their own mistakes. I do not consider myself, as often happens in other realities, to be an ‘imposer’ of rules or methods. Quite the contrary! I periodically meet with all my staff through scheduled meetings where we discuss and reason together, respecting visions, doubts and new ideas that may emerge. I am convinced that this way of working is the ideal approach to create the inner awareness that each person needs to improve and improve in their field of work. I do the same with our suppliers. Obviously the quality of the products is very important in this sector. We must always provide a service and a product that satisfies our customers. I like to build a relationship of mutual respect and, also with our suppliers, a common growth project. Research and development are the basis for building an effective and long-term collaboration.

Marco Zanatta’s strengths and weaknesses.

Good question! I don’t like to describe and judge myself, I prefer other people to do that. But if I had to answer, I’d say that my greatest advantage is sometimes my worst defect: at least I think so! I am a very altruistic person and I have always made myself available to others. Often this attitude is not perceived and understood in the right way. I believe in the word love and what it represents. Love means giving: not only necessarily when you receive something. I consider myself a lucky person, together with my wife we have built something important and now I feel ready to give, what I can, to my neighbour. This attitude has often caused me some difficulties. It has not been understood and perceived in the right way. But this is a part of Marco that I like and that I do not intend to change. One of my faults is certainly the fact that I don’t like unconstructive or trivial criticism. I like to discuss and analyse every doubt or perplexity, as long as it is based on valid reasons. Over the years, this aspect of my character has weakened slightly, thanks to the experience I have gained both at work and in society. Today I prefer calm reflection rather than an impulsive reaction.

His career path has seen continuous growth over these long years. From coffee shop to entrepreneur in the coffee, biscuit and affiliated products supply sector. What does Zanatta Caffe offer?

Impresa Zanatta Caffè s.r.l. offers its customers a 360° presence. As a café we have developed a working strategy that covers the whole day, planning our service over five time slots: breakfast, light launch, afternoon snack, aperitif and after dinner. In this way, we try to adapt our proposals to the needs of our customers. Let’s say that stopping at just the title of cafeteria is a bit reductive. Today, a café must operate throughout the day, optimising space and resources. Even the simple display of products requires study and precise planning, changing with the passing of the hours. The references linked to a specific operating period cannot and must not be present in other time contexts. The display windows speak to the customer and invite him to consume them. Combinations are therefore fundamental in order to whet the guest’s appetite and fulfil his every wish, thus increasing sales. Through the branding of its products, Zanatta Caffè Home offers the possibility of consuming everything that is consumed in a coffee shop at home: from coffee to biscuits. In the field of external sales, the company proposes to build loyalty with those who want to use our products by proposing them to their own customers. We try to export the Caffetteria Centrale model to other establishments, providing brand, products and training. We have studied and selected four blends suitable for every type of establishment: Zanatta Gourmet 100% Arabica (suitable for gourmet coffee and pastry shops); Zanatta Velvet 90% Arabica-10% Robusta (suitable for coffee shops); Zanatta Intense 70% Arabica 30% Robusta (ideal for coffee bars); Zanatta Strong 40% Arabica 60% Robusta (recommended for restaurants-pizzerias and hotels). Our raw material comes mainly, as far as the Arabica bean is concerned, from South America and Central Africa. For Robusta we opt for geographical areas such as South East Asia. In addition, we offer a selected range of confectionery and similar products through our Zanatta SWEET & SAVOURY brand, the result of sought-after and exclusively territorial collaborations.

The importance of communication in your sector according to Marco Zanatta.

Communication is fundamental in our industry. Knowing how to communicate means promoting your products and services. There are many different ways of communicating: from the classic and more dated ones to modern cross media techniques. Although it may seem anachronistic, the ‘word of mouth‘ still works, and is the basis of any exchange of information. That is why we must never neglect the message that comes from ourselves and our behaviour towards the customer. We cannot fail to measure ourselves against the new frontiers of dissemination and therefore rely on experts in this field. Today’s speed and multimedia cannot be dealt with by the inexperienced. If we want to achieve interesting goals, we must rely on information professionals, facing costs and investments necessary for the growth of our company.

Plans for the future?

In 2017, we invested heavily in the new look of the Central Cafeteria, redesigning the entire interior and exterior. A decision we have made over the years and which has brought us much satisfaction and appreciation from our customers. As far as the future is concerned, I would like to be able to delegate the management of the Cafeteria and dedicate my energies to the development of the Zanatta Caffè brand. In recent years we have been an incubator of ideas and projects, and I think the time has come to develop them. Today we are launching an important collaboration with a young confectionary start-up “Il Pasticcere del Cuore” led by 25-year-old Stefano Codognotto. Together with his father Maurizio Codognotto, a long-standing representative of a well-known food distribution company, Stefano has recently set up his new business space, equipping it with cold rooms and everything necessary to start up this company. We want to address the entire HORECA sector by supplying coffee and confectionery products, as well as catering services.

What advice would you give to young people entering the profession?

A few years ago I took part in Master’s courses as a lecturer and had the opportunity to deal with many young students. Important decisions come very early on, and already after the first years of study it is important to direct our minds to what we really want to do. Parents – the most difficult job in the world – play a very important role in these choices, but they are often influenced by their own expectations or dreams. I recommend looking beyond that and understanding what our children are really interested in and focusing on their physical and mental well-being. Even choosing a career path and taking it seriously can lead to successful results in life. Opening up a dialogue with teachers is just as important as listening to their advice. But it always depends on our children, their dreams and what they are passionate about. Let’s not push them in directions they don’t want to go. All I can say to our young people is to follow their dreams with commitment and passion. Set goals and pursue them. Passion, study, teaching and dedication will make the difference. Focus your energy on what you believe in and the doors to success will surely open.

Interview by Abiti Luciano; Layout Matteo Durante

Read the presentation of Zanatta Caffè