All throughout Italy, there is no shortage of limoncello vendors and store fronts all claiming to have the “best.” Given the number of tourists and competition, it is a wonder how little family owned limoncello factories stay in business, but they do. There are valuable lessons to be learned from these family-owned businesses. In a recent trip to Praiano, a sleepy little town nestled between Positano and Amalfi, sits an unassuming store front called Il Gusto Della Costa owned and operated by Valentino and his nephew. We stopped in for a brief limoncello-making lesson followed by a sampling of their limoncello and marmalade varieties.
Sixteen years ago, Valentino opened Il Gusto Della Costa with a simple limoncello recipe and a passion for serving customers. Throughout the tour and tasting, Valentino shared valuable insights about how he has stayed in business and gained world-wide notoriety for his quality products.
- Size Doesn’t Matter: Valentino knows there are plenty of factories and businesses throughout Italy that claim to specialize in or make the best limoncello. In fact, most tourists and even locals might be hard pressed to select one particular brand over another. To Valentino, size does not matter. He focuses on making the best product using the most efficient processes that highlight seasonal ingredients. To beat the competition, it is not about having the biggest operation, but the ability to produce the best results.
- Quality Does Matter: Oftentimes people make decisions based on cost instead of quality. Valentino’s limoncello factory exclusively uses locally sourced ingredients, I mean, why not, when the coast of Italy grows lemons the size of a small tortoise. Baskets of fresh lemons are delivered daily to his shop by a woman who walks down 950 steps from the terraced lemon groves above. This is the way he has sourced his ingredients for sixteen years. Generally, when businesses begin to grow, quality gets pushed aside in favor of quantity. To beat the competition, it is important to remember that quality is what sets you apart from the others.
- Service with a Smile: People appreciate a good deal, but mostly they remember how you made them feel. When you walk into Il Gusto Della Costa, you feel like family. A space is cleared in the back kitchen as they continue to peel baskets of lemons in preparation for the latest batch of limoncello or lemon marmalade. Valentino grabs a lemon and skillfully demonstrates how each lemon is peeled by hand. Depending on the skin, some lemons are used for limoncello and others are set aside for marmalade. While he's speaking, Valentino places one lemon peel in each person’s hands because he wants you to smell the fruit before tasting the result. He draws you into his world. To beat the competition, it is important to make every individual feel important and a part of your institution’s purpose.
- Passion Before Perfection: As Valentino pours samples of his limoncello into tiny plastic Dixie cups, he describesthe process and the flavors each person will experience. He communicates his passion and love for his artistry. He wants you to anticipate your tongue tasting the tart lemon, sugar, and alcohol. Limoncello, when made right, highlights the lemon, but provides a balance of ingredients that result in a perfected recipe, years of experience, and a love for life. To beat the competition, it is important to consistently communicate your passion.
- It Means Little If You Don’t Give Back: Valentino emphasizes the importance of using only the freshest ingredients and never any chemical additives. All of his quality products are made from all natural ingredients. He does not allow any part of the lemon to go to waste. Once the lemon peels are strained from the limoncello, they are set aside to dry out. He then bottles the rinds that were soaked in alcohol to use as a natural kindling that he distributes to the community. These rinds are used when barbecuing meats for family dinners or special occasions. The lemon piths are gathered and used as fertilizer for the lemon trees. Valentino makes it a point to give back to the lemon trees as a sign of respect for the fruit they bear. To beat the competition, it is important to acknowledge and give back to those who support your success.
So the next time you find yourself along the Amalfi Coast or in your favorite local Italian restaurant, order some limoncello, cold but never iced. When you taste that perfect balance of tart and sweet, it is important to understand that beating the competition is about highlighting your passion through services targeted to improve the lives of others and none of it will mean anything unless we give back. Always remember, when life gives you lemons…make limoncello. Ciao!