Oltre. in Bologna is more than a restaurant. It’s an institution of young passionate talents honoring the traditions of the city. We talked to co-founder and Sommelier Lorenzo Costa to learn how they managed to create a captivating and inspiring culture for their team, based on the individuals working in the restaurant. A culture that allows every team member to grow their full potential personally and professionally while providing every guest with a unique experience.
What the Story About Oltre.?
The meaning of Oltre. is "beyond" because we try every day with all our might to go beyond without leaving anything behind! I met the chef and co-owner of Oltre. Daniele Bendanti in the restaurant of my father here in Bologna in 2010. At that time, I was a waiter, and he was the sous-chef. We immediately had this connection, and we started working in great synergy. The main reason that pushed us to open Oltre. in April 2016 is that we love our city Bologna and our traditional food. Local food is great, is genuine and simple and we didn't want to change the traditional recipes we have grown up with. So we're constantly trying to find a way to make the recipes contemporary and more modern in a way, without losing sight of the classical touch. On the other side when you get through the door the mood is not the one that you'd expect from a classic Italian trattoria: We wanted to add an international touch to our restaurant and our dining room. That's because we'd like to think about our city, Bologna as much European and International as possible without forgetting our traditions and our roots.
You guys don't seem afraid to stand out and be different. What's unique about your approach towards running a restaurant at Oltre.?
I don't know if it's unique or not, but what we do here every day at Oltre. is to stay on our track throwing ourselves into our work. The biggest challenge and the most exciting at the same time is to stay super focused on our goals keeping our eyes peeled for every single thing we can get inspiration from.
Oltre. is known for having a very committed team of young talents that you describe as family. What is the culture like at Oltre. and what do you do to sustain and grow it?
We are a family! Here at Oltre. we are a very close-knit group where everyone is heading in the same direction. Sometimes we get incredible results, sometimes we miss our goals, but what matters to us is to work together and motivate each other, bringing our personal experiences into the team. We like to think at people as people not as managers, waiters, chefs, or bartenders, everyone is essential, and we'd love to make Oltre. the place where people can grow their full potential personally and professionally.
You recently decided to change the way you operated the restaurant and implemented a "work less to work better" approach honoring time spent outside the restaurant. Why is that important for you, and what are the results of this initiative?
During the last three years, we have faced with too many races against the clock, with no time to have lunch or dinner, with no time for our family and with too few hours of sleep between services. Those are sacrifices we were ready to fight with since day one, but at a certain point, they become useless, at a certain point you have to stop, take a breath and focus on the things that matter, both at work and in private life. We decided to dedicate the majority of our energy to one single round per day, keeping our mind and body more relaxed so we can take better care of all aspects of the restaurant. Now we have more free time to spend outside Oltre. and we can use this time to "bring home" new experiences that can inspire our work inside the restaurant. We started this new project only two months ago, but we are all thrilled and more motivated to see how our commitment brings the desired results!
You have managed to establish a strong restaurant brand within the space of a few years. It almost feels like your restaurant has a personality. How did you manage to achieve this?
We joined the Bologna's food scene on tiptoes trying to understand what this city needed. We were focused on something new, trying to get a share of the market, which was still available: traditional local food wrapped in a fine dining experience. We have built strong relationships with all the little craft shops and restaurants in the neighbourhood because we wanted and still want, to spread our project and to be connected as much as we can with our city. We wanted since the day one, maybe even before the opening, that Oltre. had is own identity. Our restaurant is built based on the people who work and live there. Its personality is just the sum of our personalities. The identity we have built is helping us every day to create a unique experience for our guests even before they get through the door. We didn't know which was the right way, but we had clear ideas on we wanted Oltre to become, and that is what we strive for!
You are very active both on social media and in the restaurant community. Can you describe your approach to branding your restaurant?
I think social media is essential today. It’s very useful both for us and for our guests. They help us to keep updated and stay connected with the worldwide gastronomic scene. We've planned events with people around Italy and Europe starting from Instagram! It allows people to see with their eyes how hard we work to achieve our goals and they can also imagine their own experience at our restaurant even before they arrive.
You are using the hashtag #makebolognagreatagain. What's the message behind this?
Obviously, we make fun of the famous slogan, but there is a kernel of truth. Bologna has been seen since ever as a second-rate town but I think this city deserves more! Bologna has a very important historical heritage, culturally and gastronomically speaking, just think about the university and at the food valley. We should remember to honor and keep alive all the traditions we have that now are disappearing.
Can you describe your approach towards hosting an exceptional guest experience? How is it different from other restaurants?
We are constantly improving the hospitality. Superb help us every day in this field. We know if a guest has already been here before or if the guests go through the door for the very first time. We already know if he or she drinks still or sparkling water and we can cater in advance for his/her dietary restrictions. In this way, we can create a unique and bespoke experience for every single guest trying to put every single table in the limelight.
You are currently hosting different events inviting other chefs to cook with you at Oltre. What value do these chef collaborations bring to your team and restaurant?
We have a pretty busy schedule. I think we can learn a lot from hosting people from Italy and from all over Europe, both working and humanly speaking. I also believe that inviting important chefs and great people cooking in our restaurant adds value not only to our restaurant but also to Bologna and is very helpful to its growth in the gastronomic scene. Sometimes planning this kind of events could be very stressful but is also very exciting and every time all the efforts have been rewarded.
What do you believe is key to build and grow a successful restaurant today?
I believe that the most important thing about running a restaurant today is to build a strong and a very close-knit team which works hard in a captivating and inspiring environment. You can have good ideas, good suppliers, good techniques but they are useless if you don't have great passionate people around you, you can count on. Our strong family is the engine and the soul of our restaurant and contributes to creating the vibes our guests are looking for.