SINGAPORE — Small steps and multiple side hustles can culminate in a dream come true. At least that's the case for the chef-owner of La Bottega Enoteca, nestled along Joo Chiat Road.
Although 51-year-old Antonio Miscellaneo is loved by pizza enthusiasts these days, he actually had a corporate career as a software developer that spanned over 20 years prior to starting his own business.
Even then, he tried his hand at various other ventures before realising his dream. Speaking to Yahoo Finance Singapore, Miscellaneo, who came to Singapore in 2006, said he had always wanted to do something on his own and had tried but failed many times.
Today, at number 19, La Bottega Enoteca is the only pizza restaurant in Singapore to make the prestigious list of 50 Top Pizza Asia Pacific 2023. And Miscellaneo came in at number 57 in the Top 100 Best Pizza Chef awards.
With the accolades under his belt, Miscellaneo is preparing to expand his business – having launched Casa Vostra ("your home" in Italian), a ready-to-heat pizza delivery service in early 2023, he will soon open the brand's first retail outlet.
I left a much easier life for a much harder life, for sure. But, I'm happier.Antonio Miscellaneo
Recalling his early days of entrepreneurship, he said, "There were other things I've tried before... some apps, some online games. I also at one point wanted to start a tiramisu brand." These were the various side hustles he attempted while still working his day job.
Undeterred, Miscellaneo, who has a Singaporean wife and two children, kept trying and around 2016, started an import and export business for fashion accessories. With the help of his wife, the business took off and gradually transformed into the fashion brand Hoola-Hoola. As his side hustle steadily grew, Miscellaneo found the confidence to leave the bank he was working for to be a full-time entrepreneur.
"By doing that, I could slowly ease into it (being his own boss)," said Miscellaneo.
Owning your own business: Harder but happier
Miscellaneo stressed that while he liked his corporate job – it paid him S$20,000 to S$30,000 monthly, he said – he grew restless with the corporate environment and wanted to do more.
"I will say that a corporate job is amazing because it allows you to have more time, it's very safe, you get paid at the end of the month, and you have very little stress compared to having a business," he said. "I wouldn't say that owning your own business is for everyone. People might think it's better when you have your own business, but actually, a corporate job is a lot easier. I left a much easier life for a much harder life, for sure. But, I'm happier."
When you find people who are capable and talented, treat them well. They deserve it.Antonio Miscellaneo
For Miscellaneo, being happy is to be driven by a sense of purpose, and he believes that everyone should find it. "You could find a purpose in a corporate job, there's nothing wrong with it. But sometimes, in a corporate job, that purpose can be lost. When you run your own business, every day you can define and redefine your purpose," said Miscellaneo.
That sense of purpose led him to open Casa Nostra, his home-based private dining restaurant, in 2018. It was one of the first private dining experiences in Singapore and had very little competition, according to Miscellaneo. "It gave me a lot of purpose because I loved all my customers, I loved cooking for them, I loved the personal interaction," said Miscellaneo.
Being the restless entrepreneur, however, Miscellaneo felt that it wasn't enough. He wondered whether it was sustainable for him to cook for people at his own home in the long run and started to feel "bored". His restless spirit is a recurring theme throughout his culinary career and he began planning for a new restaurant in 2019.
It was a different concept from what would eventually become La Bottega Enoteca. He found a suitable property and put down a deposit for it, but the deal did not go through. Miscellaneo would later think he was lucky, as he narrowly escaped the economic misfortunes of the pandemic that came less than a year later.
In January 2020, he sold off his fashion brand, and closed Casa Nostra. Along with his family, Miscellaneo headed for his hometown in Belluno, Italy and remained there for the next seven months while the pandemic forced much of the world into lockdown.
On his return to Singapore, Miscellaneo was invigorated – he was ready to put in motion his plans for La Bottega. "I put in all my money. I didn't want any investors because I want to do it my way," said Miscellaneo, adding that opening and renovating La Bottega had set him back about "half a million to a million" dollars.
However, transitioning from home-based private dining to a restaurant was not without its challenges. According to Miscellaneo, running a restaurant from home had very few challenges and was less risky, but owning a restaurant was an entirely different ball game.
"Opening a restaurant was definitely a challenge because first of all, I had no prior F&B (food and beverage) experience besides private dining, but I wouldn't consider that F&B experience. I didn't know how to design a kitchen, and I didn't know how to run a kitchen and how to run a restaurant," Miscellaneo shared.
In business, start small first
Nevertheless, Miscellaneo shared that he has to keep working and identifying things that do not work, as there was no "formula" to follow. Through trial and error, Miscellaneo shared that his restaurant has undergone many changes since its inception, from the menu to its dining operations.
"In the end, I had to filter out certain dishes that were too ambitious in terms of execution in a restaurant and dishes that were too different that people couldn't appreciate. But, I will still continue to do things in a way that I think is right... you can't make everybody happy," said Miscellaneo, citing an example of how some customers have preferences that clash with his Italian recipes.
On his entrepreneurial journey so far, Miscellaneo said the most important lesson he has learned is to always start small. "I couldn't have gone from zero to Casa Vostra. So, start small and then as much as you can, try to prove the concept with little investments, where most of the investment is your time."
"The second lesson is to invest in people and relationships and in particular, your staff. When you find people who are capable and talented, treat them well. They deserve it," Miscellaneo added.