The one who created a little Italy in Uzhhorod or simply “our Italian” is how people call Giuseppe Cicero. There is a rumour about his café that it serves the most delicious ice cream and that its personnel try to create an Italian mood in there. In the rubric “’Meetings in the ‘Uzhhorod castle’”, we are going to talk with Giuseppe about the ‘tasty Italy’, his life in two countries, his business in Italian and business in Ukrainian and we will ask him if Uzhhorod reminds him of his motherland over a cup of Italian coffee.
– Giuseppe, did you have any other variants what concerns the name of the café in Uzhhorod except ‘Florence’?
– There were other variants, but I have chosen the name of my city.
– By the way, were you shocked or surprised when you came from the legendary Florence to Uzhhorod?
– There was no shock. I felt and understood what was lacking in Uzhhorod, what I had to do. There was no shock because I have been to Russia, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan before. Unlike there, here is culture…
– But why Uzhhorod?
– Only because the border is close. Very close. Ten hours and I’m home. And good people. Interesting and open…
– And why Ukraine?
– It’s because there have been possibilities eight years earlier. We’ve thought that economy will increase and that it would be better. But, unfortunately, it turned out to be vice-versa. A very big mistake…
– You have decided to work here eight years ago? How much time has passed from your decision to the opening of the café?
– A year. At first we’ve opened a clothing store. But I realised it wasn’t for me. I decided then to open the ‘Florence’. I have a transfer company at home. I have worked in other companies too with it. But the idea of a café is only for Ukraine.
– Was it difficult to start the business?
-Back then, eight years ago it was easier. It wasn’t difficult to open. We had prepared the documents and began to work.
– When have you given your first bribe in Ukraine?
– Never. I’ve never given and I’m not going to do this. Such are my principles. Maybe that’s why it is difficult for me (laughs). In all, I work with all the services as I should. Each month we send our products to the sanitary epidemiological station, pay taxes, in one word, we co-operate. There were issues with the migration service but it is normal, I’m a foreigner. My documents are in order, so there are no problems. But I must admit, it is more difficult now than earlier. Laws have changed and we have to keep up with them…
– Is it difficult to do business in Ukraine?
– Now it is. A lot of changes and the political turmoil of the recent years… We have to think what to do next: either to change the country or to try to stay. I still hope. But I already think where to move. I’ve invested around 150 thousand euro. I haven’t regained them yet. The minimal calculation was ten years. It’ll be a pity to leave.
– But you’re an employer…
– Yes, I pay the taxes and I am an employer. We have several dozen people employed. Of course, we pay all the fees. Just in this café, we have around ten people. There are more than thirty in all over Ukraine and even more in summer. It’s not simple with the personnel too. It is hard to find people who’d really like to work and not only spend time receiving money.
– What do you like here?
– The people. The people are very nice. The city. It’s small and calm. However, it’s no longer that calm. I fell that it is dangerous. There are many different people. I’ve been in different situations… They have tried to rob me several times. Luckily, it didn’t work. Now I always look around and in all the directions. Now I’m careful…
– How do you like the view of the city? You have come from the beautiful Florence. How do you like Uzhhorod also an old city? What do you think about the attitude of the citizens to it?
– It’s not that bad!
– You are a very polite guest…
– There are buildings that are not in order. But many of them are being renovated. They are often well renovated. The quay in Uzhhorod is beautiful… The city is interesting. It needs more care…
– What do you not like about the everyday aspects?
– I don’t like the dark streets in the evenings. The pavements should be restored as well. Disaster… When there’s rain entire rivers flow down the streets. What concerns peoples’ culture, I can’t say anything bad. Uzhhorod is Europe, after all.
– What would you like to suggest to the City council as a guest?
– To work more for the tourists. There are no large factories or plants in Uzhhorod. They should think about the infrastructure and the tourists. What specifically? They should think it over. They need to take other cities as an example. I have seen Lviv and Odessa. The cities do very much for the development of the tourism. It’s good for Odessa because they have the sea… Lviv organizes festivals, concerts all the time. It has a very nice city centre. Everything is for tourists. There is a need to work in Uzhhorod. All I see is cafés opening, cafés and restaurants opening. There are enough of them. Something more interesting should be introduced!
– By the way, tell us something about your café…
– I don’t want to say that our café is better than any other, it’s impolite. The only thing that our ice cream is Italian and the pizza is made as it should be. I always want everything to be nice. We have an unusual terrace and people like it, tourists take photos there… And we want the visitor to instantly recognize that he’s not in a French or Irish, not in Ukrainian but in Italy. Italiano!
– You still do not discard the probability to leave everything behind?
– It’s difficult. It is very difficult. I have other offers. For instance? Azerbaijan. If I leave Uzhhorod, I’ll leave Ukraine too. We’re beginning the work concerning the summer season. We’ll be in Arkadiya, Odessa…
– Is starting a business in Odessa differs from the ‘Uzhhorod style’?
– Yes. Very much. It’s easier there. It is maybe because the city is large. Everything is for tourists. We just give an application for employment, issue the certificate and pay for the rent and the taxes. But everything’s simple. We work without problems.
– But you reside in Uzhhorod?
– Yes. I’ve had a choice. I love the sea very much. But I don’t like big cities. However, Uzhhorod has its own charm as well. It’s a calm city. I’m used to it. Lviv is beautiful. The architecture reminds me a bit of my native Italy. But it’s also a big city…
– In addition, its traffic is very specific…
– The traffic on roads is a disaster! But the city centre is confetto!
– Well, it seems to me that Florence is ‘confetto’…
– Florence is a wonderful city. There is no ‘tourist season’. It lasts from 1 January till 31 December. And I see that people having been there once keep returning there again and again… I often come across people who now much more about my city than I do; people who have been to places I have not been to and have not seen… The atmosphere, the history, the art…
– Were you born there?
– I was born at sea, but we moved to Florence then. I love it and I love the sea. My favourite place at sea is Viareggio. I was born in Rimini. I also love the beach around. It is a fairytale with its snow white sand… My father comes from Sicily. Moreover, he comes from a city better not to show up in.
– I’ll remain silent (smiles).
– Have you arrived only because of business?
– My wife is in Italy, if you’re talking about this. And everything’s fine. I travel home each month. It takes me ten hours by car to get home. I’m interested in business here. If it doesn’t work, I’ll leave.
– Your family has not been to Ukraine yet?
– Not yet. I would like to bring them this summer, my wife, son and daughter. They haven’t come earlier because the children were too small and the sea is very close… But I’d like to show them everything: the Carpathians, Uzhhorod, Lviv, and Odessa…
– What are you going to show them first?
– Firstly, the Uzhhorod castle. It’s history. The city centre. Then we’ll go to the mountains. There are a lot to see. We’ll visit the mountain passes. I love these mountains. You can sit and watch for long time… Beautiful… Then we’ll visit Berehovo too and Mukachevo. In all, they should see the country…
– Why is Italian cuisine so tasty? What is its secret?
– Everything depends on the products. Good and high-quality products. We use Italian products, almost everywhere. For example, we use Ukrainian flour and sugar. We use only Italian ingredients for ice cream.
– What is the most delicious ice cream? It is believed that pistachio…
– There are different pistachios. They can be very expensive and can cost ten euro per kilogram. In Italy there is a city called Bronte, where the pistachios are the best in the world… However, I like milk ice cream. It has got a clear taste. You can add anything else… For it to be good, one should keep the quality. I have taught my every employee by myself.
– Does this concern pizza as well?
– Yes. Tomato, olive, butter, cheese and fillings: prosciutto and else… There is no secret. It depends on good products. I fell odd when I see how people pour ketchup or mayonnaise on pizza… I can’t look at it. You lose the taste. Unfortunately, we have to import most of our products.
– Is this impossible to find or prepare anything high-quality here?
– Well, we buy some meat and dairy products here… You know, we have opened a mozzarella mini-factory in Uzhhorod a few years ago. We have put a line, worked, and produced natural cheeses: scamorza, mozzarella and ricotta. We were working. But milk is very expensive. There were constant daily checkups and veterinarians, and control, and control, and control, and control… The supermarkets put on a 20%-mark-up and it is expensive. We had been working for two years. Then we closed it. It was unprofitable. The line has been sold to a monastery in Rakoshyno. Now monks are producing mozzarella there. It is easier for them. They have their own farm, their own milk without a rent. Novices are working and no bodies are checking… The business goes on.
– As you are from Florence and it is the capital of Toscana, I just have to ask about wines. Do you like the Transcarpathian ones?
– I don’t like house wines. I was brought up on Chianti… I don’t drink house wines in Italy. My father has tried to make house wine and his friends too. And I don’t like it. It’s a different technology. Everything should be properly done: everything’s clear, tanks are made of stainless steel… It is made for the sake of clear taste. But here, I have tried wines many times and they had a smell and flavor of an old tub… However, I know that there is good wine in Transcarpathia, for example, in Berehovo… One more thing, it is too expensive. It’s not worth it. They need to learn…
– How do you find the Ukrainian cuisine?
– I like it. I eat everything. I like soups. I like borsch very much. I can’t prepare it by myself yet, but I’ll learn how to. I like to prepare lasagna the most. And tiramisu!
– Ukrainians are often compared to Italians…
– They are similar… Both an Italian in Ukraine and a Ukrainian in Italy (there are a lot of them in Italy) cohabit peacefully. Their characters are similar. The mentality is a bit different. You see it when you speak about business. For example, when we begin a business, we say: ‘the system will be as it is in Italy. We have to set a level and we’ll keep this level.’ It is not the case with Ukrainians… They begin well and then change the system. I am sure that the man thing for business is to keep the level.
– What about the conditions for business set by the government? What about the control, the sanitary epidemiological station? By the way, our Minister of economy and trade has resigned recently. He said he cannot work in such corruption…
– To be honest, I hope that something will change. I hope that it’ll be better. They promise each year but I see no changes… It’s difficult to work. They check me each month. I send products for analysis. There is no such thing in Italy. But they are strict in this matter. If the service comes and finds violations, it will close your café and shop as it is. What about taxes? They are higher in Italy: 52%. And the personnel’s salary is high too. And so are salary payments as well. A great number of small businesses in Italy belong to family businesses. It is more profitable so. One more thing. Everything you need to do to open a café in Italy is to send a letter to the local authority. If they do not answer or reject you in a month, you can open it and work!
– What you dream about?
– About peace here. I dream to continue my business here; about people who can earn money and live with taste. To work, relax and enjoy life. Not to look back what has happened. To have time for delicious ice cream!