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Marco D’Arrigo and Caroline Denti are a lovely couple who made their dream come true being able to convert their job in a love story (and vice-versa), nurtured daily with enthusiasm and passion. Their eight bakeries in Milan have become an establishment in town after almost twenty years of activity, as well as turning into the most photographed food places in all Italy. We went to their very first store in Viale Premuda to meet them and get to discover what’s the secret behind their success.

How did you develop the concept behind California Bakery? Tell us about your story.

Caroline: This venture first started twenty years ago (we will actually turn 20 in 2015 and we’re very excited about that!), when I still hadn’t met my husband. He was a restrained employee with a strong enterpreneurial attitude who bravely decided to leave his well paid yet not satisfying job as an advertising project manager in order to develop this idea. In fact, the seed of this concept had already been planted by an American lady named Carol who ran this tiny bakery as a passion. She just opened when she was in the mood for it and usually put an “I’m at the gym – i’ll be back” sign on the door when she was not. Marco was a friend of hers and when he decided to go back to California, he understood that that was the right time for riding this brainwave.
Marco: So we started with a first run-up phase and then we developed the format together with my wife Caroline. We evolved together until we reached the great results you can see today.

Where did you find the inspiration for the development of your format?

Everything came out almost purely instinctively, just like love at first sight. We started with an idea and then we found ourselves managing different issues and walking along a different path, constantly growing towards something unknown. This was our strongest point.Being able to adapt to the trends and wisely riding them.

What makes California Bakery unique? What are its main features?

Marco: If we had to rationalize our main features I would talk about three basic elements in food retail: container, content and service. Throughout the years what we learnt is that you have to be very strong on each of these basic points in order to have success. Our container is far from being fake: every single piece you see in our stores has got its own story and heritage. This is something rare to find since even the slightest detail of almost every bakery today is perfectly planned by interior designers. Talking about the content, we are proud of our internal production: we bake our own bread and this is another rare aspect to find here in Milan. Last but not least, we believe in our team and always try to motivate them in order to have the best service for our clients.

You have eight stores in Milan. How do you guys usually choose the locations?

In that case it’s also about love at first sight… there’s always some detail we fall in love with – like a beautiful antique counter – and we decide straight away that it’s going to be the one.

What is your relationship with Milan? Would you like to expand outside Milan and, if so, where would you like to open a new store?

Caroline: My own approach is quite different from my husband’s since he comes from Sicily and I’m from the North and grew up here in Milan. I guess this city is becoming more and more international also with the support and influence of EXPO 2015. It’s a lovely place to live in since it’s not too big and it’s designed for it’s people. Moreover, Milan repaid all our work and proved its love for us all which we are very thankful for.
Marco: From a commercial point of view I can say that it’s not that easy to be successful here in Milan since it’s not a huge metropolis such as London or Paris, so it’s always very hard to draw a crowd in a venue as there is a very demanding audience. However, if you do your job right, Milan will always be kind to you and repay your efforts. We travel a lot and we’ve always daydreamed about a new location abroad but we still haven’t found our love at first sight. Anyway, we feel wise enough to push our boundaries outside Milan and we are currently working on a new opening in Brescia just because we were enchanted by this location.

I know you are very active with social networks and you also run a blog. What is your relationship with the Internet and digital communication?

Caroline: Everything concerning communication and brand awareness has always been curated by my husband since the very beginning of this venture by using the traditional media available at time. Once I joined the company – since I had a Marketing and Communication background – I decided to hit the gas on this aspect. We had a foresight on what was going to happen in the world of communication and knew that our target audience was already using that kind of language, so it was very important to be updated in terms of digital awareness in order to be always able to get in contact with our audience by communicating in the same way.
California Bakery has got a retro and vintage attitude but still remains updated in terms of service quality and product knowledge, therefore communication has to keep the same pace. Our generation had to learn everything from scratch. That’s why we decided to hire young bloggers and social media experts who taught us all the basics. Now we’re a lot more confident and we are aware that this is the best way to understand our audience without being too intrusive.
We’ve recently been voted by Instagram as the most photographed food enterprise in Italy and we currently have 35K followers on Facebook without ever having had any viral campaign and we’re very proud of that. Social networks for us are like virtual stores through which we can broadcast our values and life-style allowing us to control the flow of clients who come over to our stores. That’s kind of magic!

In spite of this strong connection with digital communication, you recently launched a book telling your story. Tell us something more about it.

Marco: If I ever had a dream during my childhood, it was to become the author of a book as a response to my Italian language teacher. Jokes aside, this project is the successful completion and a celebration of our brainchild. It’s a recipe book and a love story told by all the real characters who work day by day with us at California Bakery.

Social Cooking is another special project you recently launched. What is it about?

Caroline: Years ago one of our most loyal customers proposed starting up a cooking school. That’s how five years ago we started our Cooking Labs: cheesecake courses taking place in our stores. After a while, we realized that we didn’t have enough space, and since the idea was becoming more and more successful, we finally decided to invest in a real school in Piazza San Simpliciano, called Cooking Lab where we organize our courses and spread our values every year from October to April.
Two years ago, with the support of the Municipality of Milan in light of EXPO 2015, we started the side project called Social Cooking. That’s a series of free admission cheesecake courses organized by us in our customers’ places with their own tools and ingredients. We offer our teachers to fourteen attendees who have to be part of the same condominium in order to raise sociability so it’s like a benefice event promoted by our team.

What’s coming next?

We are very looking forward to our upcoming opening in Brescia at the moment and then we are getting ready for all the events of EXPO 2015 which is a great opportunity for us. We’re going to have a 6-month calendar full of events since we are very fond of nutrition values and everything concerning American culinary culture.

WORDS
SERENA BELCASTRO
PHOTOS
SERENA BELCASTRO AND GIORGIO BALZANO

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