Italian family builds business dream in the Barossa Region
Matteo and Fiona Carboni Story
When the Carboni family arrived on Australia’s shores in 2011 they were destined for Melbourne. But a close friend managed to lure them to the Barossa Valley region in South Australia - a place famous for its local food produce and world renowned for its wonderful wines. Their friend insisted they would full in love with the stunning landscape, the friendly people and the relaxed outdoor lifestyle.
In Italy, Matteo had spent 5 years at the Academia Barilla in Parma, a culinary institution dedicated to the teaching of the art of Italian gastronomy. It was here that his skills as a teacher were discovered, resulting in him conducting cooking classes and demonstrations and teaching team building courses for clients from around the world.
Parma is known around the world as Italy’s ‘Food Valley’ as it is the home of Parimgiano Reggiano cheese, Prosciutto di Parma and from nearby – the famous balsamic vinegar of Modena. Before the birth of their daughter in 2010, they would work during the week and travel on weekends exploring the regional food and wine culture.
Matteo and Fiona Carboni were keen to establish their own food business. However, Italy was and is still suffering from the effects of the GFC and small businesses, especially in food service, struggle to keep their businesses afloat, especially with Italy’s high taxes that change regularly.
“Our dream was to start a business around food and wine, and when we discovered Angaston in the Barossa Valley region, with its weekly Barossa Farmers Market, beautiful fresh farm gate produce and an incredible group of like-minded people who were passionate about sustainable farming and whose motto was ‘buy local’, we instantly thought we could create something there and build a future for our babies, Sofia and Filippo. After all the wonderful places we had visited in Europe, we never imagined that we would find what we were looking for in Angaston in South Australia”, they said.
Prior to opening ‘Casa Carboni’, they had a stall at the weekly Barossa Farmers Market. This enabled them to meet many people from across the community, from suppliers to consumers as well as building new friendships, all of which was of a great advantage when they finally opened their own business in December, 2012.
As their business model was the first of its kind and because it was their first time in business, they were not able to secure a loan from any of the local banks. This was a major blow to their dreams. However, through family support, sponsorship from SMEG (Italian kitchen supplier) and from many people offering to volunteer time to help and through generously loaning equipment to them, it enabled them to get their business off the ground. The locals were very enthusiastic for Matteo and Fiona’s school and shop/cafe to open in Angaston, and they were keen to see them succeed. It was a new and exciting business!
Prior to opening, Fiona took the time to discuss their business ideas with key stakeholders in the community, including the Barossa Regional Development Australia Network (RDA). Barb Lightburn from the Barossa RDA was very supportive and offered some good business advice, including suggesting people they should establish contacts with in the region. Barb maintained regular contact with Fiona and Matteo to make sure things were moving forward.
One local business owner encouraged Fiona to apply for admission to the New Enterprise Incentive Scheme (NEIS). This scheme included studying for a Certificate 4 in Small Business Management, and it provided mentoring and rental support for the first year of business. This scheme helped to get their business up and running. A very valuable part of the course was a requirement to develop a business plan. Even though Fiona and Matteo had already written one, the course covered areas they had not previously considered. That along with a free assessment of their plan helped to create a very effective business plan.
Fiona and Matteo have established many friendships with other local businesses. Often they would get together to talk about how their businesses were going, which helped them immensely. For example, when they were having a quiet time with their own business, through their discussions with other business owners, they found that they too were experiencing a slow down. They learnt that what took customers away from their business were such things as sports events, the start of school holidays or the start of the new school term school, the annual Royal Adelaide Show and large local winery events. They learnt too that quiet periods meant valuable time to re-energize and it gave them an opportunity time to catch up on website updates and even to take some time out of the business and to pick the kids up early from daycare!
Fiona and Matteo’s advice to others dreaming of setting up a business in regional Australia.
“Our advice would be to have a point of difference & find a gap in the current offering. Do something you enjoy and are passionate about. If your plan is to do something different to your previous professional experience, learn all you can and gain experience in the new profession prior to opening. Check out what is already on offer in your area as locals in smaller communities won’t be as accepting if a newcomer was to open in direct competition to another local business.
We have been open for just under two years and with both of us working up to seven days a week and with two small children (4 & 2 years old), there are some things we did which unintentionally had a negative impact - such as not changing our car registration from our original New South Wales registration to South Australia’s. Some people saw that as lack of commitment to staying in the region, so I am told! If only they knew how committed we were right from the start! But you can see that there are some things you many not think of as a high priority, but others don’t see it that way! So as soon as we realised our mistake, changing our car registration was on top of the “to do” list!
What we love about the Barossa Valley region is the strong sense of community. The support is incredible. People drop off produce, offer to lend a hand when we have needed it and refer us to other customers constantly (as we do for them too). We offered familiarisation promotion to cellar doors, to tourism information staff and to accommodation providers when we first opened, to get our name and our business known around the district. We are currently offering another round. This has been really helpful in promoting our business.
If we had stayed in Melbourne, we would certainly have had more customers, but we wouldn’t have received the wonderful community support or had access to high quality of produce right at our doorstep, all of which helped to make our offering unique; and for a chef like Matteo, this is very fulfilling and inspiring indeed!
Our kids are known to just about everyone here and when we go to the Farmers Market on Saturday everyone keeps an eye out for them and comments on their growth, just like an extended family would do. Considering neither of us have any blood relatives here, we certainly do feel like we are part of a very large, happy family.”
If you would like to contact the Barossa Regional Development Australia: here