It was the summer of 2006 when Simone Scarpa, who was in his thirties at the time, arrived with his friend from Italy to Finland – Forssa – for the Kuninkuusravit (‘royal races’) championship. The aim was to enjoy the races and spend a couple of weeks in summertime Finland. How did that work out? These friends’ trip in Finland is still on-going. In the midst of the races, love intervened and both Italians found their future spouses. Simone met Sari, with whom the journey has continued through interesting twists and turns to Joensuu.
Harness racing and restaurants
My youth in Italy was fast-paced. I studied to be a pilot, but my passion was for harness racing stables and restaurant kitchens. I’ve learned those by doing instead of going to school. My harness racing enthusiasm comes from my father. I worked in different stables and competed as a professional harness racing driver in different parts of Italy. On the side, I did shifts in restaurants. For that, thanks go to my sister. I was a familiar sight in her workplaces. I was like an apprentice who was learning more and more about cooking from the masters of the industry. This ‘training’ lasted more than ten years and it still carries on.
Shy or hyperactive?
I am a spontaneous type who likes to seize new opportunities and challenge myself. When I met Sari in 2006, it was clear that I would move to Finland and start a new life with her. In 2007, I came here permanently. I was surprised at how easily I adapted to the Finnish way of life. My attitude was the deciding factor. I wanted to immediately look for a job and study the Finnish language so that I could communicate properly and really get involved in local life. At times, Finnish grammar caused nightmares, but I didn’t give up. I learned how basic Italian and Finnish characters have certain differences, for example, in the way people approach each other. It’s funny that in Italy I’m considered shy and here I am extrovert. I like talking to people.
Making restaurant dreams come true
When I moved to Finland, I first became a cleaner. I also tried working at harness racing stables, but horse rides during the winter frosts were literally too cold for me. Work in restaurant kitchens began to be more and more attractive. I had just applied to a cooking school when I received a job offer at the Mamma Maria restaurant in Lahti. It was there that I got a great apprenticeship in Finnish restaurant life over the course of six years. The idea of owning a restaurant matured in those years. I wanted to create a place I’d never seen in Finland before. In 2014, my friend and I opened Casa Italia in Bulevardi in Helsinki, which was a combination of a deli, wine bar and restaurant. The new concept and its timing hit the mark — there were plenty of customers. Through contacts of my partner we also opened a similar restaurant in Manchester. At the end of 2019, we had a total of two Casa Italia restaurants in Helsinki and two in Manchester.
Putting the family first
I had dreamed of owning a restaurant for a long time, and now the dream had come true four times over. I was happy but tired at the same time. The 24/7 life of a restaurant entrepreneur was tough, where the family was forced to take the second place. We had previously found a suitable home for our family in Sari’s birthplace near Joensuu. I wanted to stay with my family permanently. This became possible when we were able to sell all our restaurants at the end of 2019. We had no idea that the coronavirus pandemic that shook the entire restaurant industry would soon begin. After the acquisitions, I took a breather with my family for six months.
ABC was a pleasant surprise
In the autumn of 2020, I began to miss working in the restaurant industry, but few jobs were available due to the coronavirus pandemic. I submitted an open job application to PKO. To be honest, I was hesitant when I got the call from ABC Siihtala that was looking for a chef. Would ABC be the right place for a veteran like me? I still went to the job interview with an open mind and got excited: the people seemed nice, the work was versatile and I would again learn something new. I started as a chef and now my main job is as a kitchen manager. I also work as a deputy service store manager, so I can be a part of the whole ABC’s everyday life. There is variation, learning new things, and a convenient amount of challenges that drive me. Even though it is a chain unit, I can influence many things with my ideas.
Work is not to be feared
Our ABC has a multicultural work community, which is a great asset in many respects. We desperately need workforce for our industry both from abroad and from Finland. What concerns me the most is how we can get young people excited about the restaurant business. I find it hard to understand that restaurant work is considered too harsh. Personally, I like to be busy, and the hardest days for me are the quietest winter days in the kitchen. Well, at first it also surprised me that I would actually have holidays and vacations from my work at ABC! At the moment, I really enjoy ABC, but in the future, new work ideas are not excluded either. My home is now in Finland. It’s nice to visit Italy, and sometimes I miss the lively lifestyle there. On the other hand, I enjoy the peace of nature, which is abundant here.