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Felicita - One of the First Italian Restaurants in the Czech Republic: A Restaurant with a 28-Year History in Brandýs nad Labem

We had the opportunity to interview Tomáš Svášek, the owner of one of the first Italian restaurants in the country. Together, we explored his entrepreneurial journey, starting from the early steps, navigating through the challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic, to the current fresh concept of the restaurant, which has gained popularity not only for its seafood and pizza!

Located in Brandýs nad Labem, the restaurant, with head chef Martin Boháček, who previously worked with Gordon Ramsay, is just a stone's throw away from Prague.

The owner of Felicita Tomáš Svášek

Tomáš, could you please introduce your restaurant in your own words?

Our restaurant is nestled in Brandýs nad Labem and boasts a history of nearly 28 years. Founded in 1996, it started as an Italian restaurant with a large summer garden overlooking Brandýs Castle. Today, I owe the success not only to my colleagues but also to my girlfriend, who despite her own job, contributes significantly and helps keep things running smoothly.

Ten years ago, I ended up in a wheelchair, but that didn't hinder our operations. Our restaurant, like all others, was doing well until Covid hit. Let's face it; it wasn't an easy time for restaurants.

Fortunately, we managed through Covid with the help of 'take-away' desserts from our Swiss pastry chef and delivery services. Although the times forced us to take out a loan, which we're still paying off.

Is there a funny moment or a mishap from your beginnings / throughout your business journey?

When we started, not many people in the Czech Republic were making pizza, and there were few Italian restaurants too. So, we agreed with a pizza maker from Morocco to come and teach us how to make pizza. Unfortunately, three days before the restaurant opening, he messaged us saying he wouldn't be coming, so we had to start on our own. The beginning without an experienced Italian chef was quite tough, and our pizzas weren't exactly top-notch.

Fortunately, after ten days of opening, a young Italian happened to visit us as a guest and ordered a pizza. When we brought it to him, he told us that's not how it's done, in broken Czech. To which we replied, he could try making it himself if he knew better. The random passerby ended up working with us for a week and taught us how to make pizza. After a week, he disappeared without a trace.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your business today?

The biggest challenge right now is probably assembling a good team. Capable people are scarce, and putting together a team that works well throughout the restaurant seems to be the toughest task now. Fortunately, during Covid, I managed to keep all my employees, but unfortunately, one of the key employees left, and the team subsequently fell apart.

But hope dies last, and hopefully, better times are ahead for us. I think we've managed to assemble the team now.

You specialize in Italian cuisine, what prompted you to start with that initially?

The inspiration came during my work in Austria, where I visited an Italian restaurant and even worked there for a while. 

In the Czech Republic in the nineties, such establishments were a rarity, save for perhaps Prague or Liberec. While the building we chose for our restaurant required extensive renovation, approximately a year later, we proudly unveiled our establishment.

How do you distinguish yourself from competitors?

In Brandýs, restaurants are scarce. Our approach is primarily individualistic, now guided by a skilled manager. Together with our chef, they form a formidable team, making our journey relatively smooth.

What culinary delights would you recommend at your restaurant?

We're a traditional Italian restaurant, and our specialty is Scrocchiarella, which is made from a special flour that is produced only in one mill in the world. This special flour has about 56 patents in the agricultural institute, and we have access to it. It's a special dough that's more digestible, tastes very good, and is crispy.

At the moment, we're also focusing a lot on fish and seafood. We try to create a different menu every weekend. Personally, I like seafood and those simple and clean dishes.

How was it at the beginning with financing the operation? Did you use any external sources, investors, or your own capital?

When we started out, we had a loan from the bank and our own resources. I even had to sell my own car to have goods at the time. 

It was interesting because suppliers didn't deliver goods to you back then. So, sourcing goods was quite demanding. We had to go for everything ourselves. Getting up at six and going to bed at two, and constantly repeating.

Do you think it's easy in the Czech Republic to get financing for starting entrepreneurs, or for small and medium-sized businesses in general? 

Well, I don't know about starting because I've been doing it for quite a while now. It wasn't entirely impossible for us, but it was very difficult at the beginning. Generally, I think starting a business in this field today is almost impossible. And without a history and some statements, the bank probably won't lend to you even today.

On the other hand, I don't think it was difficult with you at all. The financing process was quick and easy. We mainly use your operating financing to survive the winter, so basically for everything. Mainly operating costs. 


Is there anything else you'd like to add? What else should be highlighted in the interview?

I would definitely like to emphasize that it's not just entrepreneurs who need to see some change. With the costs we're grappling with today, coupled with the constant increases in contributions, taxes, fees, and electricity prices, it's almost unsustainable. I believe this should be known. Not only in my circle, but entrepreneurs, in general, are quite concerned about the overall situation in the economy and Czech politics. Not to mention the shortage of staff in the industry. The cost of quality food hardly covers the expenses anymore. 


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