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Oct. 11, 2017

Words of advice from immigrant entrepreneur

Don't start a business -- especially as an immigrant -- unless you know your business, or at least the gist of it, before you start.

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By Francesco Bucci

Being a successful entrepreneur in the United States is a dream many aim for - the "American Dream" is something you are taught from a young age. Being from another country adds an extra challenge to this dream including different rules and regulations to follow, unfamiliar territory and of course the language barrier. But being a successful entrepreneur in America and taking your startup to the next level isn't about speaking the language. It's about being unique to differentiate yourself from your competitors.

After breaking through certain barriers, I made it to San Diego and started the first Pappalecco Café in Little Italy in 2007. Two and a half years later, we opened a second location in Hillcrest. In 2012 Pappalecco opened its central kitchen in Point Loma where we make most of our menu items from scratch. In 2016, Pappalecco added three more locations -- including Kensington and two North County locations, Cardiff by the Sea and Del Mar Highlands.

People always ask me how Pappalecco gained so much momentum over the years. It helps that, prior to opening Pappalecco, I had some experience in owning a business in Italy. I opened a coffee shop, a cocktail bar and a restaurant in Pisa, Tuscany with my brothers back in the day and all of them still exist. In fact, we still own the restaurant.

But what really made Pappalecco successful in growing to five locations in San Diego was its differentiation from other coffee shops. Pappalecco is all about keeping it simple, keeping it authentic and being different by keeping it Italian. We stick to Italian tradition in that we don't offer "pumpkin spice lattes" and such, but just what you would see on the menu in an Italian café. Surprisingly what keeps us current in America is not being like an American café.

But, being authentically Italian has had its challenges. When you are different and unique, people are interested. They think you are interesting. However, at times, being "too authentic" makes it more difficult to be understood. The best part about America is it's so diverse and there are so many people coming from different walks of life. Not everyone likes us, but many people love us.

Since I joined the growing American coffee and café business in 2007, a lot has changed over the years. Coffee is becoming more and more popular. However, in my opinion, there are too many coffee shops that have no reason to exist in this marketplace. They are too similar to one another. My advice to hopeful entrepreneurs is to offer a different experience that is also top quality and whatever you do, stick to your roots.

Learning how to run a business is an ongoing experience; time passes, trends fade and rules change. However, don't embark on a start-up business -- especially as an immigrant -- unless you know your business, or at least the gist of it, before you start. We were coming from a similar business experience in Italy. No one could have taught us how make gelato and the 'best' Italian cappuccino.

Pappalecco is Pappalecco. I am not saying that it is, necessarily, the best coffee shop. But it is, in my opinion, the best defined. The message is unequivocal. We are the Italian coffee shop. Our staples are coffee, panini and gelato the Italian way. That's it.

I was inspired to push through and bring my small business to America because cultural differences have always interested me. I love to immerse myself in other contexts. On top of that, the possibility to make known to many a marvelous country like Italy has always been a dream for me.

Lastly, nothing can be achieved without a solid team. My brother Lorenzo and each and every coworker make success possible together. Every day, I get to share my time and experiences with wonderful people. What is next for Pappalecco? It's been ten years since our café opened the door for the first time in Little Italy, so it's time to refresh our image. The work will start from one our newest locations. The goal is to make our cafés even more authentically Italian that it is now.

Francesco Bucci is the owner of Pappalecco Café in Sam Diego, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year.

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