There is nothing more delicious than the distinctive aroma of freshly baked bread that has come straight out of the oven without preservatives and additives. I’m talking about artisanal bread which is made at the hands of a skilled baker in a traditional way. Bread is one of the fundamental foods of a balanced and healthy diet and can be found right across the world in many shapes, sizes, textures, and tastes.
For baker Matteo Zanardo the smell of Sourdough takes him back every single time to his roots in Pordenone, Italy. As a boy, Matteo watched his grandfather bake naturally leavened Sourdoughs that are the mainstay of every Mediterranean dinner table. With his wife Giulia by his side, Matteo brings the art of good Italian food made by hand from his Moate-based family business, Magico Food.
From Italy to Ireland
“My wife is originally from Romania and she had come to Italy to work as a hairdresser. Giulia had no problem travelling to another country, whereas I had never travelled abroad. However, in 2014 my employer sent me to Azerbaijan to work on a construction project. For me, being in Azerbaijan was both eye-opening and exciting. When I got back home to Italy I was almost a changed man and wanted to do more travelling. We decided that we would leave Italy and move to another country.”
Matteo and Giulia had originally decided to emigrate across the world to Australia because they had relatives living there. However, the level of documentation and requirement to speak fluent English put them off. They decided instead to look for an English speaking country within Europe – Ireland ticked all the boxes.
Also, Giulia’s brother had lived in Ireland as a student and the couple asked him for his opinion. Giulia elaborated: “My brother had warned us that it might be raining every day in Ireland and that we should think long and hard about leaving the warm and sunny Italian climate. But he said that the people were very friendly and the pace of life was slow and that suited Matteo and me very much.”
In 2016, Matteo and Giulia left Italy and moved to Banagher in County Offaly. Matteo had worked in construction and found himself working for a local precast concrete firm. But the weather was not the shock that they had planned for, within two weeks of arriving in Ireland, Giulia fell pregnant with their first child!
Baking the Business
Matteo and Giulia had settled into Ireland very well and Giulia found work as a hairdresser in Monksland, Athlone. They also left Banagher to live in Athlone.
But as many entrepreneurs have told me, they had a yearning to set-up their own business. They were just not sure what that business was going to be. The inspiration to set-up a bakery company came rather unexpectedly. Giulia explained how it happened:
“My mother was visiting us while I was pregnant with my second child. She wanted to make sure that our family was eating as healthily as possible. One day she decided to bake some soda bread because fresh bread has lots of nutritional value. When Matteo came home from work that evening, he immediately noticed the smell that was wafting around our house. He said that it was as if he was back in Pordenone. All his happy memories came flooding back to him. He then decided that he was going to start using what he had learned at a bakery course he had done back in Italy. Very soon, he started to bake fresh Sourdough bread at home for our family every day.” Many of their friends were complimentary about how good his authentic Italian homemade bread tasted.
Matteo became very passionate about baking and kept perfecting his fermentation process for the dough. He settled on 24 hours as being a perfect time for his loaves. Thinking it could be an opportunity to establish his skills, the couple set-up a Facebook page to test the water under the Magico Foods name – Magico was for ‘Ma’tteo, ‘Gi’ulia, and their daughters, ‘C’eleste and ’O’livia. They could not have predicted their success.
“We started to get a steady flow of customers very early on and also delivered the orders. The feedback was amazing because people loved our bread. Within two months, we needed a bigger oven.” Matteo told me.
Wholesale v Retail
Their original plan was to supply bread to the local wholesale trade e.g. cafés and restaurants and not to sell directly to the public from a shop premise. However, in March 2019, a chance meeting with a local business owner, led to the couple becoming aware of an empty shop in Moate that used to sell takeaway pizza. The premises was perfect for their requirements and it needed very little in way of renovation or retrofitting to bake bread. Matteo’s father came over from Italy to help him set up the new shop premises.
Since they set-up operation from Moate, customers were coming into the shop to buy bread, pizzas and pastries directly from them. So, they concentrated more on retail than wholesale and started to import a variety of Italian flour, pasta, sauces, and olive oils to sell.
To strengthen their relationships with their customers, Giulia took the role of running the customer service for their business while her husband concentrated on baking during the night. “I prefer to leave the baking to Matteo because he is so much better at it than me,” Giulia laughed. “Also, I am responsible for all deliveries to our wholesale customers which often means that I am on the road quite a bit and I juggle that with looking after our two young children.”
Pandemic and Future
The business has been very good and in the few short years that they been running Magico Food. Matteo and Giulia firmly believe that they were right to go with their gut instinct and give the business a try, “We work very and never gave up on our dreams of running our own business. Now, we are thinking about expanding the business further because the demand for our Sourdough products is increasing. People are discovering the health benefits of buying freshly baked local bread and supporting local artisan producers like them in the process. Fortunately, for the couple, they have not been impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“People are stuck at home during the lockdown and naturally they go online to discover healthier foods or recipes. Lots of people found out about us and were intrigued about Sourdough and that has helped us to keep going. Also, we are an essential food business, we were able to continue trading. Even during a pandemic, people need bread.” Matteo said.
Ireland Feels Like Home
Despite only having moved to Ireland about 5 years ago, Matteo and Giulia can’t say enough positive things about the local community in Moate that has been very welcoming and supportive to the couple from day one. “Every step of the way, people have been fantastic to us. The local community feels like it is our family. Everybody is so friendly and I truly believe that most Irish people will go out of the way to help you in any way that they can. We don’t feel like outsiders, we feel at home and in many ways, it feels like Italy to us, except when it comes to the Irish weather. We would love to change that!”
This article was first published in the Westmeath Independent 31/03/2021.