Text by Sheere Ng @ Makansutra
Six years ago, she was set on becoming a doctor after pursuing pathology in college. But Francesca Scarpa started working at her parents’ restaurants instead. “I guess I didn’t realise it (the family business) has always been in the back of my mind,” says the 28-year-old on her sudden change of heart.
But Francesca did not end up taking over the family business. Instead, her husband, Guillaume Pichoir, is now the CEO of the Da Paolo Group, while she is the head of products, taking care of sourcing, costing and menu planning.
Da Paolo is one of the oldest Italian restaurant chains in Singapore. Its first restaurant was opened in 1989 by Paolo Scarpa and his wife Judie Scarpa. Francesca, their eldest child, spent most of her childhood in the restaurant carrying breadbaskets and taking phone reservations. “The school bus dropped my classmates off at their homes, but they dropped me off at the restaurant,” she says.
This affinity with the restaurant probably explains why, despite at a young age of 22 years old and with no business experience, she decided to carry on the family legacy. But the work proved to be more demanding than what she had expected. “It was not just about food and drinks, but also accounting, human resource, maintenance and so many other things,” she says. Running a small business like Da Paolo meant she had to be involved in everything, she adds.
A gracious heiress who knows when to step back and let her husband take charge. (Image courtesy of Francesca Scarpa) …
Her immaturity then also made it difficult for her parents to entrust her with the business. At one point the restaurant menu did not serve olives because she didn’t like them. “My dad was so angry with me. He said ‘You cannot be like that. It doesn’t mean if you don’t like olives, other people also don’t like olives’,” Francesca recalls.
Her husband entered the picture two years ago when he quit his managerial position in a multinational corporation on his way to join another company in the States. By then, both Francesca and her parents knew that she wasn’t the best candidate to the lead the company. They were also looking to have in place an organisational structure, which Francesca had no knowledge in.
Judie and Paolo seized the opportunity and offered her then boyfriend the CEO position in their company. “He was always intrigued by what I told him about the business when were dating, but even then I wasn’t sure if he would accept the offer because the other company he was supposed to join seemed to have better prospects,” says Francesca.
But her husband did take it up.
Today, Da Paolo has 12 outlets, and is a family business (Paolo prefers it this way) run like an organisation. Everyone in the family plays a specific role: Guillaume is the CEO, Francesca is the Head of Products, her younger brother Andrea is the executive chef of the bistro bar, and their cousins work in the warehouse, marketing and administrative department.
This arrangement works great for Francesca, who prefers a more specific role so that she knows exactly what she has to do.
She has also learnt to let go and not poke her nose into everything. “It is not productive to try to know everything. If you want to know you better make sure you deliver something. That’s how my husband works,” she says. So much so that when asked how Da Paolo plans to compete with the increasing number of Italian restaurants appearing in the Singapore dining scene, she says, “You’ll have to ask my husband. He discusses with me only when the plans are firm.”
Though her husband now calls the shots, Francesca didn’t rule out making a return. “I couldn’t do it before does not mean that I will never do it again.” Sounds like the Da Paolo heiress may challenge her husband for the top job in future.