There’s nothing like food and drink to bring people together. We talk to Gianni and Angela Montoro, owners of Arte Bianca in Chapel Place, Tunbridge Wells, about their family of customers
Tell us about the history of your business
We got started here about ten years ago, when we took over from another couple. They were getting a bit tired of it, so we came along and it’s been a real journey ever since. For the first two or three years, we worked really hard to make people understand the difference between what we were offering and what else is out there. The hard work has paid off as we’re now very successful.
What is that difference?
Customer service – that’s something no one else can copy. You have all these chain shops now but to them you’re a number, basically. You go in there and they just say ‘next’. To us, customer service really is a must; it’s our number one priority. The customer must be looked after, regardless of how much they spend. Here, the service is personal and we’re like a family. We could have 20 people in here and they’ll all know each other – they may not have known each other before they started coming into the shop. They all met in here and now some have become close friends, which is great.
Is Tunbridge Wells a good place to run an independent family business?
Yes, there are a lot of family businesses here like ours and we all get to know each other and support each other.
Can people come and spend time in Arte Bianca?
Yes, they can sit down, have a coffee or some lunch or breakfast, or a glass of wine. It’s like a nice community here and we know our customers by name.
And does the town have a strong demand for Italian food?
Yes, it does. Tunbridge Wells isn’t the place it was 20 years ago – people are travelling more now and Italy is one of the favourite places to go. So people can figure out the difference between good quality Italian food and some of the other foods we get in the UK.
We hear your panettones are particularly popular here?
We’ve had the same people coming in to buy the same cake for the last nine years, or they phone up and ask if they can reserve their cakes for Christmas. They are proven to be fantastic quality. You can taste the difference between our cakes and something you’d buy elsewhere – they are much moister, you can taste the quality in them and the candied fruits are much better because they’re all GM-free. So it’s a better cake and that’s why they’re a success every year.
How about other Christmas treats?
Our personalised hampers are always popular. People will come in and discuss what they’d like and the price and we’ll make it up for them. Some customers might need ten or 20 hampers and we always make sure they’re really nice.
We’ve been getting those same customers for years now so they’re obviously getting a good reaction to the hampers. We already get bookings for between 70 and 100 hampers each year and when it’s the same clients time and again, that will be because we looked after them that first time.
Do you offer many Italian wines?
Yes, Italy is a great place for wine because you have a lot of variety that no one else has. There are many grapes that only grow in Italy – you could spend a couple of months just trying all the wines. It’s a long country and there could be 20 degrees’ difference in temperature between north and south.
Is there anything you can’t bring here from Italy?
We’re from Calabria, in the south, and we have tried to bring over what we think is good. But we can’t bring everything because of the weather. You can’t implement Italian culture in England because we don’t have the temperature. We’re not sitting outside eating gelato all year here; maybe it’ll just be 20 days a year. Certain things do work with the English weather but not everything.
Do you provide a catering service?
We do, but we don’t overload ourselves with catering, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to serve customers in the shop. Maybe once a week or a couple of times a month we’ll take an event on, but it’ll be something small and catering isn’t something we feel we must do. We don’t want to neglect the shop because this is the main focus. Everything has to be done to 100 per cent or we won’t do it. Money is great but if you do something just for a bit of money and you do it wrong, or you rush into it, you haven’t actually earned anything because you’ll lose clients.
So do you have any big plans for the future of Arte Bianca?
We’re very comfortable with what we have! We like to have dinner with our children and breakfast with them in the morning, and if we opened any more shops we might have to give that up, which we’re not prepared to do. Maybe when they’re a bit older, but we’re happy to have a business that provides enough money for a comfortable life. Perhaps if one of the kids said they wanted to run the family business, we would maybe do it then, but we’re very happy for a few more years to come.
1 Chapel Place Tunbridge Wells TN1 1YQ 01892 510554