Italian fusion in the Rechtstraat

Marco Belluzzi of Toscanella Apuana is unrelenting: his restaurant will never serve pizza Hawaii or pasta carbonara with chicken. “It would not suit our identity. We cook truly Italian food, we buy original products in Italy and only use fresh ingredients. Our roots lie in the cuisine of Tuscany but I am always happy to try new things. You could perhaps best describe our cuisine as a fusion of Italian styles.”

Almost five years ago, Marco moved to the Netherlands with his family, in search of a better future for his children. Having previously visited Maastricht, he was attracted by the city. “The atmosphere here is more similar to Italy than places in the Northern Netherlands.” Having worked in various Italian restaurants for eight months, together with his wife Sara he started a business of his own in the Rechtstraat, selling Italian delicatessen. When he decided to also serve food and drink, he came up against the restrictions of Dutch law. “In Italy there is no such division between selling and serving food. Here the rules on social hygiene and the serving of alcohol are much stricter. At the beginning I was able to participate in a national ‘blurring project’, aimed at allowing the merging of hospitality and retail activities. At the end of the project period, I visited the municipal Business Contact Centre (BCP). By that time my business had grown 300 percent, but in order to retain the concept for the city, the zoning plan had to be altered, and I had to pass the social hygiene exam. For me the exam – consisting of 40 multiple choice questions – turned out to be above all a test of my language skills. Fortunately I passed, and in September 2017 we were presented with our operating licence.”

Pulling strings

Things were not always easy at the beginning, admitted Marco. “Each country has its own laws and you must learn to understand them. I am so grateful to the BCP. They were extremely helpful and put me in touch with the right people at the municipality so we were able to do everything according to the rules. I was personally convinced that our business had something to offer the city, and the BCP was equally enthusiastic about our concept. I am delighted with the opportunities that the municipality offered my wife Sara and I, but at the end of the day it was up to us to prove ourselves. In Italy, it is impossible to start a business without pulling strings. My experience in Maastricht is that the municipality is willing to listen to you and will help you stick to the rules. There were of course teething problems, but there was always a way out.”

Quality

Toscanella Apuana is now a household name in the city. Business is flourishing both at lunchtime and dinnertime. As Marco explained, “We offer a lunch menu with rolls, pizzas and simple pasta dishes. In the evening, on top of the regular menu we always serve a number of day specials, such as ravioli, sea bream or goat’s cheese fondue. We now have a staff of nine. “If we wanted to grow any further, I would be forced to change the concept, and that is not something I want to do. I would rather stay small, and continue to offer the quality I have always aimed for.”

Marco and his family feel perfectly at home in Maastricht. “To be able to succeed in another country, you have to integrate. At the same time, I wish to retain my own identity. As a businessman I will always say: follow your own ideas, listen to no one and work with passion. That is the way to succeed.”

More info: www.toscanellaapuana.com