September 28 is World Poke Day, and the day after Vittoria Zanetti will be on the stage of the Italian Tech Week, at the OGR in Turin (here all the details), to talk about it. Better: to talk about Poke House, his startup, which contributed to the success and spread of this in Italy (and beyond) typical Hawaiian dishgenerally based on marinated raw fish.
“When I quit my job and left a safe job to throw myself into this adventure, I think my parents wanted to kill me”: she told us smiling, a little joking and a little no. From his words we understand that that tug-of-war with the family must not have been easy, but we also understand more: 4 years, 25 million in investments, 1000 employees and 130 restaurants later, we understand that she was right.
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That decisive meeting
Zanetti, fresh in his thirties, is co-founder and executive director of Poke House: “Together with Matteo Pichi, we founded it in April 2018 – he recalled with us – At that time he worked as Glovo’s country manager and I in the marketing department of Calzedonia, first in Milan and then in Verona ”. And yet, they both wanted to do something else. Especially her: “I’ve always had the desire to work in the restaurant world, to open my own place. I was working, because I had to prove to my parents that I was doing something, but my head was elsewhere ”. The meeting with Pichi was decisive, and according to her it is one of the reasons for the recipe for a success that is difficult to replicate: “Professionally, we complemented each other. And being different, having different skills and abilities, helped us to fill each other’s gaps ”. The second ingredient obviously has to do with food. Intended just as the type of food proposed: “My love for poke was born between the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018, I discovered it in the United States, often making trips to Florida and California – he told us, talking on the phone right from Miami – In Italy there was practically no, and above all there was no concept of the bowl, that is the bowl in which to put all the ingredients. So I decided to bring those dishes, those colors, that feeling to our country ”.
The intuition turned out to be spot on: the latest report by Growth Capital shows that poke outlets in Italy grew by 140% over 2021 and that the market generates a turnover of 328 million euros (+ 117% on 2021). Today Poke House has over 130 restaurants spread across Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, United Kingdom, Romania and USA (there are 7, obviously in California and Florida) and has taken over two other companies in the sector, in Austria and Holland. Contrary to what one might think, none of the stores are franchised, which is why the employees have grown to about a thousand, and probably the third reason for success as well: “The restaurants are ours, and this allows us to have total control over what we do, to take more care of the products and to offer a better service “. And also to overcome some of the skepticism that has been created around poke, as the diffusion has grown: how do you combine quantity and quality? “We are obsessed with quality, starting with that of food, and we select raw materials with extreme care, from salmon to other fish, passing through the vegetables that accompany them”, Zanetti replied. And the fact that employees are addicted definitely helps: “Instead of thinking about their earnings, as those who are in franchising do, they think about the good of the company, even in the management of food and its care, for example without reusing the leftover but perhaps no longer suitable”.
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Beyond lockdowns and closures
In just over 4 years, Poke House has raised 25 million euros in funding (and more will come), but the road has not always been easy and downhill: “The the first phase of the pandemic was very hard – Zanetti admitted during our chat – We had been born for about a year and a half, we were ready to receive an investment of 5 million that would have allowed us to turn around, and suddenly it was disaster. March 2020, the lockdown, all the restaurants closed, no one around and the lenders who pulled back and dumped us: I seriously thought we wouldn’t make it “. And then? “And then, in less than 24 hours we are there invented from scratch 3 brands for food delivery, with their menus, graphics, formats and we went online “. It worked, the investors came back and the company not only stayed on its feet, it grew. Listening to her words again, it is easy to understand why this is both the worst and the most beautiful memory of this young entrepreneur, who she hasn’t stopped dreaming anyway: “We want to become the McDonald’s of healthy food,” he confessed. Using an oxymoron that she seemed well aware of.