MILAN — It may come as a surprise to many that former Bulgari and LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton executive Francesco Trapani in the Nineties was the owner of three McDonald’s in Rome. That first initial interest in food has now germinated into new investments in two symbols of Italian culture: pizza and ice cream.
The goal is clear-cut. “To become the reference Neapolitan pizza brand in Europe,” said an upbeat and relaxed Trapani of his investment in Briscola-Pizza Society during an interview at the Bulgari Hotel in Milan, ahead of the official opening of two Briscola restaurants in the city at the tail end of Milan Men’s Fashion Week.
The investment in Briscola was made in parent company Foodation, founded in 2014 by Riccardo Cortese and Federico Pinna, through Trapani’s Argenta Holdings sarl last year. Argenta has a 53 percent stake in Foodation. Earlier this month, it also took a 51 percent stake in Geloso, a start-up that makes fully natural ice cream on a stick.
“It happened by chance, [Cortese and Pinna] were looking for an investor and strategic help because they wanted to expand and I was impressed,” Trapani said. “Despite the small size of the business, their presentation was well-structured, they knew how much they sold, how many customers they had, their marketing was strong, but first I thought I should go and try the pizza before making any decision. I was expecting banality, but I was blown away.”
To be sure, Cortese and Pinna trumpeted the quality of their pizza to Trapani because they knew they had to stand out in a competitive and saturated market. “It has to be top,” he said, noting that Briscola, which is the name in Italian for Whist, received an award for best Italian pizza in 2015.
At Briscola, you can have a pizza in a traditional size or smaller because the concept is to share and try different combinations of toppings. “It’s very convivial,” said Trapani, who revisited the Briscola concept into a full service restaurant rather than a fast casual venue, where customers would pay after ordering and before sitting at the table. He also expanded the menu with appetizers, sweets and ice cream, as well as more drinks, wine and beer.
“It’s a little more expensive, but it’s the concept of affordable luxury because with the price of a pizza, you enter a restaurant that has a special design,” Trapani explained.
To wit, architect Fabio Novembre, who has worked on boutiques for brands such as Stuart Weitzman and Blumarine or, in design, Driade and Cappellini, was tapped to conceive a new image for Briscola.
An impressively high and large, burgundy red polygonal sculpture of Queen Margherita di Savoia, after whom the pizza Margherita was named, stands at the entrance of Briscola on Via Dogana, a few steps away from the Duomo Cathedral in Milan. Whist cards on a large scale hang on the walls and are reproduced on the floors. Red neon lights and black-and-white elements contribute to the sleek interiors inspired by English clubs or university fraternities. The Briscola motto in the location is “In pizza we trust.” “It’s a fun concept,” Trapani said.
More restaurants are expected to open next year in Milan and London, where Trapani is looking for a location. “The idea is to bring Briscola around the world, with both owned and franchised units,” he said.
Foodation also has kebab and hamburger restaurants, but these have been set aside for the time being, he added. Trapani revealed he had toyed with the idea of opening a fish restaurant in Saint Tropez, where he spends time in the summer, but balked at the real estate prices there. “I never heard the like,” he summed up.
Trapani will also open a store in Rome for Geloso by the end of July and he is looking at expanding distribution of the ice creams, which are free of preservatives, chemicals, artificial colorings or thickeners, not only in restaurants and bars but also in venues such as hotels, golf courses and gyms.
“The image of the store will be very elegant, so people will feel the luxury experience while paying the price of an ice cream,” he said, adding that he plans a retail rollout for Geloso, too, mainly franchised.
Trapani last year became a shareholder of Tiffany & Co. and was named to that company’s board. He was most recently chairman of private equity Clessidra SGR, spearheading the acquisition of the Roberto Cavalli brand in 2015. During his tenure at Bulgari from 1984 until 2011, he took the company public and created Bulgari Hotels and Resorts. He is vice president of asset management and banking group Tages Holding. He is not one to invest without doing his homework and he still marvels at how successfully Geloso came out of the several blind taste tests made with a range of people on the street as well as with chefs.
Allegra Antinori, of the famed Italian wine family, is a shareholder in Geloso, which was launched by partners Jacopo Mattei, Lesya Vorona and Fabrizio Pirro, and prepared by Manuele Presenti, master chef of natural ice cream, founder of Academy of natural ice cream and three-cone Gambero Rosso [red prawn]. The ice cream is made in Formello, outside Rome.
To promote Briscola, the entrepreneur is investing in communication on customized tramways in Milan and in a digital campaign. “Quality product, distinctive design, critical mass and a communication campaign are key,” ticked off Trapani, who is clearly enjoying this new phase of his life. “Let’s hope ‘let’s go have a pizza’ means let’s go to Briscola.”