Ep2: Starting a Business during a Pandemic

Valentina Langley, La Pineta Italian Deli

In March 2020, Valentina Langley was busily planning the opening of her brand-new delicatessen La Pineta Italian Deli in the centre of Truro. Then the country went into lockdown, and Valentina found herself starting a business during a pandemic.

Having to rethink her plans, Valentina began offering gourmet Italian food boxes, freshly prepared in her kitchen, to bring a slice of Italy into people’s homes.

Valentina chats to our host about her lifelong passion for food and her childhood spent growing up in Italy. She also shares how the challenges she faced starting a business during a pandemic has opened her eyes to different ways of operating her business.

Listen online using the player below or search ‘Outset Podcast’ in your favourite podcast app.

Find out more about La Pineta Italian Deli at https://www.lapinetaitaliandeli.com

We hope you enjoy this episode. Get in touch for more information on how we can support your business start-up journey.

Read the full transcript here

Announcer (00:01):

Welcome to the Outset Podcast, the business startup podcast from Outset Cornwall for support and inspiration to start, run and grow your business. Here’s your host, Rich Gunton.

Rich Gunton (00:15):

It is another edition of the Outset Podcast, and today we’re talking all things starting a business during a pandemic. Now the lady that’s on the call, she originally wanted to set an open a physical shop, but the pandemic arrived. She has now pivoted her business from a physical deli to home deliveries and farmer’s markets, pizza delivery kits, and homemade meals, and has some future plans to get out and about in the community, potentially with a deli food car truck apparently. Valentina Langley joins me now. Hi, Valentina.

Valentina Langley:

Hello there. How are you?

Rich Gunton:

Very, very well. Now, just before we hit record, you were giving me a bit of an Italian pronunciation lesson. So you, you introduce your name…….

Valentina Langley (01:06):

La Pineta which literally translates to The Pines. So it’s a, it’s a name given to a forest that we used to go to when I was a child.

Rich Gunton (01:15):

Ah, very good. The E as it’s spelled Panetta is pronounced as an I, so yeah. And so just while we’re talking and if people do want to have a look at your website, which is something I always do when I listen to podcasts, can you give us your domain name?

Valentina Langley (01:32):

So you can visit my website on www.lapinetaitaliandeli.com

Rich Gunton (01:39):

Super. All right, then. So I’ve given you a little bit of an introduction, but what’s your, what’s your story? Where and when did it all start for you?

Valentina Langley (01:47):

I started last year, it was around July, August time, when I was told that basically I had no job to go back to due to the pandemic. So I always had the idea in my head of starting something around Italian cuisine, as I was brought up, basically cooking with my mum and my dad. But I kind of wanted to steer away from the normality, or I guess what people think is normal for Italian cuisine, which is pizza and pasta and showcase so much more to what there is. I kind of got in touch with a few people and started networking, and the idea just spiraled into what is La Pineta, the Italian deli today.

Rich Gunton (02:33):

Oh, fantastic. And so born in Cornwall then?

Valentina Langley (02:37):

No, no, definitely not. I was born in Italy, so I’m from the Campania region, which is in the South of Italy. It’s kind of between Naples and Rome, about an hour away from the Amalfi coast. So it’s a really beautiful part of the country and I was brought over to the UK when I was nearly eight years old. My mum was actually English and my dad is Italian. My mum lived in Italy for 25 years, met my father and had myself and my brothers. She decided she wanted to return to the UK, so we all came back when I was eight years old.

Rich Gunton (03:11):

Fabulous. And you obviously holidayed over in Italy on a regular basis then?

Valentina Langley (03:16):

Yes. So we tend to go back and visit family. My dad, he goes back every year without fail. I haven’t been in the past two, three years. Only because I had my little one, so she’s two and then obviously the pandemic hit, so I’m desperate to go back.

Rich Gunton (03:33):

Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. And you mentioned there, about the pandemic obviously, and recording this towards the end of February, 2021, where in the recent week we’ve had some vaguely good news that there may well be an end to all of this, or certainly some changes to move back into normal life. How has it affected your plans then and how have you adapted or has it affected you in any great way?

Valentina Langley (04:00):

To be honest with you? I kind of feel like one of the lucky ones only because when I started the deli, it was all and it still is all from home. So obviously we had to adapt to everything at home with the kitchen. I had to have a new kitchen and everything. And so I produced these gourmet boxes that people come and collect or I deliver, and I’ve just kind of continued with that. I would have liked to have been in a premises just because it’s quite hard work when you’ve got two small children, and when you’re working out of your kitchen, space is very limited. In a sense, I’ve been okay because I’ve just been able to continue as I started, but I haven’t been able to grow as quickly as I would’ve liked, I guess.

Rich Gunton (04:44):

And I think it’s an interesting time, you know, as we are in a pandemic and as we come out of that pandemic, the financial situation and potential recession and all those sorts of things. And when you look back at the businesses that have started in those times, how they’ve grown and developed or blossomed to become fairly robust sort of platforms to be able to build upon, you know, looking at the glass half full and all that. So in terms of future plans to get out and about with some sort of a food cart, is that right then?

Valentina Langley (05:16):

Yeah. So, I mean, the initial idea was to obviously have a shop, but obviously the pandemic hit and I was like, okay, but at the time, I didn’t know when this was all going to be sort of over then. It’s still all very much up in the air. Yeah we have had good news, but I had the idea of having the deli on wheels just because I don’t want to be permanently in one location now. Ideally I’d like to be able to get out and about in Cornwall and be a one-stop shop where people know I’m coming and they can stock up on their Italian goods, have a little treat and I’d like to have a more Italian trattoria as we call it, on wheels. That’s the aim.

Rich Gunton (06:02):

No, fantastic. And I, as an ex-Truro dweller myself, you know, you obviously got Lemon Quay and all the sort of food markets that kind of come through. I mean, it’s fairly central to Cornwall as well. I think you’re up near Highertown area aren’t you, so you’ve got good, good links. And it’s interesting as well when, you know, spending more time at home, either whether we have to, or potentially as society slightly changes and becomes a bit more kind of home-based, I do think that the spend for food, which really majority of us who love our food and having that spend be something a little bit more than just a, I was going to say a pizza, but I’m sure your pizzas are, I know nowhere like well we might get from, I won’t say who, but you know, the obvious ones you might phone up or a sort of a cheeky Curry or a Thai takeaway, you know. I suppose we sort of have started to kind of move upwards and further than that, in terms of bringing food to our front door. I’m just having a look on your website, you can build your own sort of food boxes and those sorts of things. And I think that’s an interesting approach, isn’t it, for special occasions and that sort of thing?

Valentina Langley (07:11):

I get lots of enquiries for special occasions because a lot of people have been to Italy and they love Italian food. And obviously with the current pandemic, a lot of people haven’t been able to go over to Italy to celebrate, so I’ve had daughters and sons where they bought boxes for their mums and dads, just to say, you know, here is Italy coming to you for a birthday celebration or anniversary. So it’s quite touching actually, and it’s lovely to put these things together. If I can be part of that then, yeah, it’s lovely.

Rich Gunton (07:46):

It’s a sort of a sign of the times, and then I think the majority of us, when we think of Italy, we don’t, you know, not only do we think of all the beautiful scenery and the romance and the novels and the literature, but food, it’s got to be high up there on that list hasn’t it? Were you in the food business industry, job wise before then? Or is this a complete change for you?

Valentina Langley (08:10):

Obviously I’ve grown up, like I said, cooking from a young age. I would be in the kitchen helping my grandmother or my father it’s kind of gone from there. So I’ve always had a love and passion for food, but I actually was working as a management accountant, so completely opposite end of the scale. I was sat in front of a computer and dealing with numbers all day. Yeah, it’s a, it’s a big change. So I’m kind of learning as I’m going along, but it’s really exciting and I’m glad I’m doing it.

Rich Gunton (08:43):

It’s a good background and a good sort of stable experience to build upon, isn’t it? Certainly knowing you numbers!

Valentina Langley (08:50):

I mean, that will certainly help. But it’s having that thing that you’re so passionate about and you love so much. I think that was always missing. Like, I’ve just always loved my father’s cooking and because of the way that he’s been brought up in our region, it was very much you kind of make these dishes with what you have. So it’s based on the whole idea of what’s called La cucina povera, which is like poor kitchen, as it translates. That’s been such a passion of mine, and I just kind of, I’m glad that I can have the opportunity to just showcase it a little bit.

Rich Gunton (09:26):

Yeah, absolutely. You mentioned before about the idea whether it was eminent or, or longer term or the ideal of having a deli, would that be Truro based then? Is that the idea?

Valentina Langley (09:37):

Ideally, but who knows? It depends, I guess how it goes with the van, because I quite like the idea of being everywhere.

Rich Gunton (09:46):

Yeah. We’ll have people listening to this in, you know, Falmouth and, and Redruth and over in Bude thinking, oh, blimmin Truro, they always get the good things.

Valentina Langley (09:56):

And it just, you know I also like the, the idea of being a caterer for a wedding or birthday celebrations. It would open more doors, I think, being in a van than it would in a shop. We’re quite lucky down here. We do have some lovely delicatessens, so I think I just want to bring something a little bit different to Cornwall.

Rich Gunton (10:18):

If you look at your numbers, we all know that being on the high street is an expensive place to be, isn’t it, unfortunately. But, also the wedding market, being someone that’s had my, or our wedding postponed three times now, given the pandemic, as I understand it, the wedding industry will just go into an almighty boom over the coming few years, because so many people have postponed and therefore it’s booked up even more in advance than it ever would have been. I think being a good caterer and offering something very, very different from my personal experience and viewpoint would be yeah, absolutely demand sort of space. So your customer base then could be a slice of Italy into, into someone’s home and it might be catering for an event or a wedding. It might be taking it into the communities in your food carts, I guess, just anybody with a desire to love food and eat well, I suppose.

Valentina Langley (11:13):

It’s obviously about spreading the whole Italian food and the love that people have, like you said, when you go to Italy, I think some people kind of think that Italian food is, like I said, just pizza and pasta and it can be expensive. It’s not, it’s real. It’s just making good dishes with good ingredients, and I kind of would like to show that to people. I’ve posted on social media, how you can make a dish with whatever I’ve got lying around and simple ingredients.

Rich Gunton (11:42):

If there was one dish then, only one dish, you could take with you wherever you were going, which one would it be and why?

Valentina Langley (11:49):

Pasta e fagioli I think. So, although it’s a pasta, you can have pasta with it, but it’s basically federally is a, is a type of stew that we have with cannellini beans. And it’s the simplest of dishes. It’s really hearty. It’s delicious. It’s a staple dish from where I’m from. And you can, like I said, you can have it with pasta, you can have it with vegetables. And it’s kind of like a go-to dish that you can have with anything. So I couldn’t live without fagioli. So that’s yeah, that’s one dish I would take with me.

Rich Gunton (12:21):

And I guess you’d be an advocate when time allows of getting the children in the kitchen and actively part of making some pizzas perhaps or something that’s quite easy and fun to do I guess?

Valentina Langley (12:32):

One of the things that I did bring out was the pizza kit because I was doing it with my children. So I kind of feel, Oh, you know, maybe some people would love to make their own pizzas at home rather than turning up and grabbing one. Although that’s really easy, but it was more a case of it is fun. My children love it. They absolutely love it. My kitchen is an absolute mess again at the end of it, but the point is that they’re involved and they can see what mum does. I mean, my daughter, she’s only two and she is absolutely in love with salami and prosciutto. And you know, they’re quite strong flavors, but she’s already developing a good palette for food. If that makes sense.

Rich Gunton (13:12):

That’s wonderful to hear. And so if anyone’s listening to this then, and they have maybe faced redundancy or lost their job, and they’ve thought about following a passion. I mean, you’ve come from the finance and management accounting kind of world into this space. What bit of advice would you give to someone listening?

Valentina Langley (13:32):

I think it’s to actually believe in yourself. One of the things that I think was always putting me off was the fact that I could never do it. And I was kind of pushed into doing it. You kind of learn on the way there’s so much support out there. I’ve had so much support from people like Potluck Cornwall as well as Outset. And it’s, it’s just been amazing and it’s given me so much confidence. Just believe in what you have, that’s my biggest advice and just follow it.

Rich Gunton (14:03):

And what does the next few years look like for you then?

Valentina Langley (14:06):

So the van obviously that’s the next stage. And then I’m hoping to be able to maybe do some cooking courses or something of the sort, introducing the La Cucina Povera, which was The Poor kitchen that I mentioned, something people can do at home. You know, when you hear about families, they can’t afford things with cooking at home and feeding the children. It really doesn’t have to be that expensive. And I, yeah. I just want to showcase that and perhaps, maybe do some cooking courses for people and just showing people what I love to do, I guess.

Rich Gunton (14:43):

Sounds fantastic. I think that’s gotta to be the way isn’t it, you know, give people the tools and the experience and the knowledge as well as be sort of an advocate for the fine Italian food. Can you give us your domain name again? Not that I don’t want to try to pronounce it. It’s just, you say it so far more beautifully than I can!

Valentina Langley

So it’s www.lapinetaitaliandeli.com, so it’s all one word.

Rich Gunton:

Fabulous. So we can find out a bit more about you and get in touch if we want to.

Valentina Langley:

Absolutely. Yeah.

Rich Gunton:

Valentina, thank you for your time. It’s been wonderful talking to you.

Valentina Langley:

Thank you so much. Thank you.

Announcer (15:19):

Thanks for listening to the Outset Podcast brought to you by the Outset Cornwall program, which is funded by the European Regional Development Fund, H M Government and the Outset Foundation, supporting people to become self-employed and start their own business. For more information, visit dev.outset.org/Cornwall.