Exploring the West of China: Commitment & Passion

Italians are well known around the world for good food, wine, and “Bella vita”. This week we talked with Diego Triboli, another young entrepreneur, owner of Saporitalia trading company, and Cantina restaurant in Kunming. He comes from one of the best places in Italy, Lake of Como, which is also the hometown of Beatrice Aondio, Sinosee's founder. From the Alps to the high peaks of Yunnan, Diego embodies the example of a brave self-made man.

- How would you introduce yourself and what brought you to China?

I arrived in China in 2002 to work as an engineer for an Italian company in the automotive sector between Changchun and Shanghai. In the beginning, I planned to stay only for 3 months but I ended up staying here for 19 years. At that time China was not a common destination, but I was curious and started my experience with a lot of enthusiasm. Along with me, I brought my passion for cooking and organizing parties and events, which had a lot of success in the bustling Shanghai. Later on, I decided to go west and explore the reality of Yunnan, and in my free time, I opened my first restaurant in Lijiang city in 2007. I was using it as an excuse to escape from the high speed of Shanghai as well as an investment for the future. We found out that it was challenging in cities different than Shanghai to get good quality imported food, so together with some partners, we founded our own trading company, Saporitalia, in 2008. In the beginning, it was only an internal resource to use for the restaurant, but later we developed also other distribution channels. Finally, in 2009 I decided to dedicate myself to my passion full time, I quit my engineer job and moved to Yunnan. Since 2013 I live in Kunming where I transferred to the Lijiang restaurant and made it also our Saporitalia flagship store.

- Tell us more about your “Journey to the west” of China in Yunnan province, which are the challenges and advantages of your choice?

Better quality of life is for sure a big drive of my choice. Here in Yunnan, I can enjoy mountains and amazing landscapes with a short drive from the city. Business-wise, the market here is not as developed as on the east coast yet and the new products and trends take on average 5 years to arrive. Anyway, this is also a big advantage: entrepreneurs can have more freedom to experiment and develop new ideas, without the big pressure and aggressive sales demands of a mature market like Shanghai. Less competition allows self-made entrepreneurs like me to have more space to experiment and grow in a new and unique way.

- How do you see the future and which suggestions do you have for investors in the restaurant business?

I see Italian companies have grown interested in investing in China now if compared to 2002 when I arrived. From my experience, the pieces of advice that I would like to share are two: first of all, choose the authenticity and quality of the Italian food, both in the menu choice and in the business formula. This does not mean that the result must be expensive, but instead, it should require more effort to achieve a genuine Italian cuisine solution. Investing in the restaurant business, as in any other sector, in China should be a long-term one.

Especially lately we need to accept the fact that business models are changing and margins will be thinner than before. But if entrepreneurs can accept this, success will happen for sure.

The second and one advice above all is to make good use of the similarities between Chinese and Italian culture, especially in the way we live and consume food. Both our people enjoy the meal as an aggregation moment and convivial time of the day. We both appreciate the good quality and variety of the cuisine and wine, so opening an Italian restaurant in China is a good choice if combined with the common values of authenticity, conviviality, and quality.

Here again, we learned that the key to success is to be found in unity and a source of common ground. An authentic meal with a wonderful Yunnan landscape is definitely what can help to have a good start to deeper mutual knowledge. We give a warm thanks to Diego for his time and availability to share his unique experience. China is developing at a high speed, and it is more than the big coastal city of the east.

Stay tuned for the next interview!

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