Love brought Sicilian Angela Cono to The Netherlands but, deep in her heart, her love of the island of her birth and its authentic cuisine is even stronger. Although she would return to Sicily today if possible, she recreates a bit of her country in The Netherlands on a daily basis in her restaurant and pizzeria, Elba. Her famous regional dishes are always prepared with fresh ingredients – something that is highly appreciated by her ever-growing clientele. And, although some clients are critical, or perhaps even difficult and impatient, they always come back for her irresistible cuisine. She doesn’t believe in social media and networking, finding them too superficial. Her customers know where to find her as a result of word of mouth advertising – or should we say mouth-watering endorsements?

1. How long have you been in The Netherlands?

Since 2001. I lived in Germany for a time, because my parents had an ice cream salon and restaurant there. After the death of my father I stopped studying, to help my mother keep the business going. I married a Dutch man in 1996 and came here in 2001. I never did the naturalisation course – I think it’s nonsense. As a result I have no right to benefits, but that doesn’t make any difference to me. I came to The Netherlands to work, not to apply for benefits. For the first couple of years I did various catering jobs and since 2004 I’ve had my own restaurant and pizzeria, Elba, in Hattem.

2. How did you become an entrepreneur and why?
My parents were always entrepreneurs, so it was in my genes.

3. Did you encounter problems when you wanted to become an entrepreneur?

4. What are the differences between doing business in The Netherlands and in Italy or Sicily?
I find business in The Netherlands somewhat difficult because you are constantly confronted by rules and also by the rigid attitudes of employees of businesses and institutions like banks. You then have to converse with young people who have learned everything from books, but have no idea of what business is really about. They have absolutely no practical experience and therefore hardly know what they are talking about. So it’s ‘an apple, or a banana – but never tutti frutti’. In The Netherlands you have to take everything into account, only then can you be an entrepreneur!
In Italy there are also rules – and a tax authority; but they work with you and try to come up with solutions. You are not so tightly bound by rules and, as a result, there is the opportunity to vary your approach. In Italy it is still possible to take independent decisions, without being limited by regulations. The Dutch maintain a tight schedule: there is little time and space for interaction with people. When I moved to The Netherlands, my mother accompanied me and came to live with us. I find it really hard to understand how children can dump their parents in old age homes here, while for years those same parents did everything for their children. The Dutch are quick to complain about unimportant things, such as the weather or the distance they have to drive, which is often simply ‘too far’. In Italy you can often travel for eight hours en route from one place to another. And people are far less likely to protest here. Italians, on the other hand, are far more likely to take their protests to the streets.

5. What is typically Dutch when it comes to doing business and being an entrepreneur?
The Dutch are not hospitable, neither in their private or business lives. And they are always busy. If I ask people how they are, the standard answer nowadays is: “Busy.” Is it somehow interesting to be busy? I am also always busy, but if someone asks me how I am the answer is “Fine” or “Not so good”.

6. What have you taken from the Italian/Sicilian and Dutch cultures?
I’ve taken social involvement from the Italian culture. And that you must never deny your roots. You can really integrate in another country, without having to let go of your heritage. From Dutch culture I’ve taken punctuality.

7. Would you ever go back to Sicily?
I can’t wait!

8. What are the secrets of your success?
Persevere, always be friendly and make sure you have a good product.

9. What is your favourite fruit, and why?
All fruit – as long it’s fresh.

10. What is your favourite Dutch product and/or location?

TIPS from Angela

1. Stay true to your roots and never try to make a foreign culture yours
2. Adapt, however difficult that may sometimes be

“I came here to work, not to apply for benefits”