As a small boy Marco Argante was already helping in his parents’ ice cream parlour. After completing a graphics qualification (his heart was in design) he left for Italy but returned, via several detours and many experiences richer, to engage his greatest passion: catering. To gain as much experience as possible, he took on anything. Starting, among other jobs, as night porter and dishwasher he worked his way up to maître d’hotel and manager. Now he works for himself in a delicatessen and catering business. He now not only has more freedom but, significantly, the opportunity of being both chef and host. Marco is proud that he is both Italian and Dutch. He is open to everything and feels at home in both countries: he has a fatherland and a mother country.

1. How long have you been in The Netherlands?

I was born in Venlo in 1970. My grandpa came to The Netherlands in 1927 and was one of the first pioneers who started ice cream parlours. My father was only 16 years old when my grandfather passed away and actually wanted to become a professional football player. Nevertheless, he felt called to take over the business. He did everything himself: cooking, accounting, maintaining customer relationships, etc., and in the meantime trained as a chef. He married a Dutch woman and had two children, my sister and me.

2. How did you become an entrepreneur and why?
After my training I left for Italy to discover my roots. There I was immediately employed as a graphic designer by a leading advertising agency. But the hard world of advertising was fatal for my creativity and motivation. After a year I started working as a bartender in a trendy pizzeria and immediately felt completely at home. Nevertheless, I got homesick and returned to The Netherlands in 1998. During my various restaurant jobs I realised that I had a different approach and so, in 2005, I started my own delicatessen and catering business.
I prepared everything at home or in a cooking studio and finished it on location. I developed my insight into business via my customers, who were not ‘crisis-sensitive’, as they say.

3. Did you encounter problems when you wanted to become an entrepreneur?
I encountered banks that didn’t share my dream. And then all those laws and regulations, of which I think there are too many. The hassle starts with (often unnecessary) permits. This is not really stimulating and I think it keeps a lot of people from starting a business.

4. What are the differences between doing business in The Netherlands and in Italy?
In Italy people are invariably late or don’t arrive at all. You get the most done if you know the right people in the right places. In Italy this is an absolute necessity if you want to achieve anything. While in The Netherlands you get things done by observing the laws and rules. Boring, but very effective for a starting entrepreneur. With Italians there are two things that you mustn’t interfere with: their family and their business. And they can’t stand criticism. Their working methods are the best, their family is the best, their house is the holiest, their mother is the best cook. Dutch are much quicker in getting down to business. Italians first eat and drink, this relaxes the client and you achieve more. Italians are emotional, temperamental, proud and won’t be dictated to. The Dutch, in contrast, are often much too tolerant and I find that they accept things far too readily as ‘good enough’.
In Italy it’s, ‘every man for himself and God for us all’. This mentality causes big problems and, as a result, the country isn’t an entity like The Netherlands – which is much more social. The mafia can do what it likes without fear of retribution and it’s not much better in politics. In my view, if the mafia’s money were legalised Italy would be able to clear its national debt in a single stroke.

5. What is typically Dutch when it comes to doing business and being an entrepreneur?
‘A commitment is a commitment.’ The Dutch see being late as not taking the other party seriously, nor respecting them. And they (usually) mean what they say. With Italians you still have to wait and see. In addition, the Dutch are efficient, which makes things run better and happen faster.

6. What have you taken from both the Italian and Dutch cultures?
From Italian culture: my pride, temperament – and passion, something the average Dutch person has little of. And also my adoration of beautiful women, beautiful tailored suits and beautiful cars.
The Dutch culture has given me a reasonable dose of common sense, punctuality and the awareness that ‘a commitment is a commitment’.

7. Would you ever go back to Italy?
I love the country and the people and go there several times a year if I can. But I don’t know if I would ever go back for good.

8. What are the secrets of your success?
Offer quality. Give just a little more than you agreed. For me service is important. That is my, and our, strength – because I don’t work alone, of course.

9. What is your favourite fruit, and why?
A Southern Italian orange: a feast for the nose and taste buds.

10. What is your favourite Dutch product and/or place?
A simple, whole wheat biscuit with mature cheese. And architecture: the Amsterdam school. And, although it’s not polite to call her a product, I am a great admirer of our former Queen, Beatrix. With regard to places, I love the flat Dutch landscape.

TIPS from Marco

1. Learn the language.
2. Immerse yourself in the culture of the host country and its people and do your best to make something of it.
3. Give yourself time to adjust, but also give others the time to adjust to you.

“I have combined my Italian soul with Dutch common sense”