Born in the southern Italian region of Sicily, LILIANA NOVELLINO has seen her passion for cooking turn into entrepreneurship.
The proprietor of the Naguru-based Linove Italian restaurant shared her success story with Margaret Wamanga. In 1997, Novellino was an attorney general’s secretary, wife and mother of two when her husband was contracted by an Italian non-governmental organisation to go and work with the Maasai in Kenya.
On arrival, she and the children were stationed in Nairobi, while her husband worked in the country’s rural areas and the neighbouring Somalia. A year later, he got another job as a vet at a farm in Naivasha, and his wife as manager.
While at the farm, Novellino, who comes from a family that has worked in the food industry for generations, began to miss the Italian ingredients she had grown up cooking with, in particular, the famous Italian mozzarella cheese. Since they were living on a farm, there was plenty of milk.
So, she started making cheese, and later returned to Italy for a three-week course on cheese production. Subsequently in 1999, Linove cheese factory began operations.
Novellino bought the milk from the farm while her husband took care of the cattle’s health. She was assured of quality. Before long, she was buying 700 litres of milk, producing 70kg of cheese and supplying to many supermarkets and restaurants in Nairobi, daily.
The factory produced mozzarella, ricotta, scamorza and many more typical Italian cheeses. Now that she had her beloved cheese, Novellino could also make traditional Italian dishes she had grown up eating.
After a short while, her food was attracting attention; family and friends began to ask her to supply at their respective functions. Because she loves to cook, she readily agreed, and the orders flooded in. In 2008, she decided to start doing it on a more professional level.
Novellino approached the Italian embassy in Nairobi, and told the diplomats about her desire and passion to share Italian food in the city. Shortly after her proposal to set up a cookery school was accepted, the Italian Cultural Centre was born. As the demand for her classes increased, she created more space for students at her home.
MOVING TO UGANDA
While Novellino’s business was thriving in 2015, her husband’s work required another reallocation – his time to Uganda. Most women would probably be thrown off balance by another move on account of their husband’s work, but Novellino took it in her stride.
She decided to sell Linove cheese factory, found a replacement for her cooking courses and came with family to Kampala. Just like she had in Kenya, her first plan was to secure a source of mozzarella cheese.
Novellino approached SVI, an Italian NGO working in rural areas, with a proposal to train them on the production of cheese. When her pitch was accepted, Cheesvi was created.
Once again, with her main ingredient secured, Novellino would turn her focus to her main passion – sharing her passion for Italian cooking – offering culinary lessons at her home in Naguru. However, she soon realized she needed bigger premises, and a selling point for the dishes she was cooking.
Thus, she spotted a premise in her neighbourhood that was only occasionally open. While passing by, she saw a woman outside the closed premises and asked her about it.
Incidentally, it was the building’s proprietor, who was looking for someone to occupy the premises. When an agreement was reached, Linove Italian restaurant opened in July 2016.
In the beginning, Novellino had planned to use the kitchen for her cookery classes, and the rest of the building as a selling point for the food she prepared on a given day. However, this plan worked for about two days. With an increasing number of clientele, it was inevitable she had to create a menu.
It has been almost a year since Linove Italian restaurant opened its doors for business. At the moment, it is open seven days a week from 7am to 11pm. Despite her main challenge of finding a good and reliable human resource team, Novellino says she is still enjoying the experience.
“When I see people enjoying food I have created, that has got to be my daily highlight because cooking is not just a passion; it’s an art,” she says.
Besides operating cookery classes and the restaurant, Novellino also teaches Italian cuisine at the French school twice a week. Her future plans include expanding the latest addition to her menu – gluten free dishes.
She has also started a “happy hour” every Friday. But unlike most establishments in Kampala, Linove’s “happy hour” isn’t about alcohol; it is the delightful wide variety of finger foods that are offered at the house – just like an Italian aperitivo.
It is often said that passion is the key to success. If this is true, Novellino’s endless passion is bound to succeed in bringing an authentic taste of Italy to Uganda.