It has been said that cooking is like love – it should be entered into with abandon or not at all. It’s a philosophy that Luciana Traccani lives by. She and her son and daughter, Ryan and Chiara Viljoen, opened Café del Sol in Olivedale, Johannesburg in 2007.
“I have always loved cooking and after I got divorced, my children persuaded me to open a restaurant as our family has a passion for authentic Italian cuisine,” says Luciana.
This is not your typical trattoria. Instead, this somewhat esoteric family has taken a completely different approach to Italian food.
“We wanted to create a contemporary space that would give busy people a break from the world and inspire them to live consciously,” says Chiara. That explains the writing on the walls of this stylish eatery, which features the words of some of the world’s greatest thinkers. Beyond the décor, however, it’s the quality and freshness of the food and how it’s presented that has made Café del Sol one of Joburg’s most popular restaurants. That’s also won it a place as a finalist in the 702 Small Business Awards.
In setting up, the family put their existing skills to use. Luciana had years of experience in catering, Chiara was a seasoned marketer and Ryan an IT systems developer. Because Luciana’s food was so popular with friends and family, the restaurant was packed from day one. But be warned, this business is not for sissies.
“We started to make a profit only in year three,” says Ryan. “That’s been the result of hard and long hours. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the restaurant business is glamorous.”
To get the place off the ground, Luciana extended her bond. The family’s passion was so evident, however, that an angel investor came on board too. “He was a member of the extended family, and when he saw the energy we had, he decided to lend us money which we paid back quickly,” says Luciana.
Some of the early challenges included controlling the size of the portions, and training staff to prepare and serve food according to Luciana’s exacting standards. The business was forced to up its prices when the recession hit, but thanks to the quality, loyal customers were happy to pay extra.
“We are not a franchise, so the emphasis here is on buying the very best ingredients and experimenting from time to time so that the menu is always fresh and interesting,” says Chiara.
Players: Ryan Viljoen, Luciana Traccani and Chiara Viljoen
Company: Café del Sol
Contact: +27 (0)11 704 6493