Manuel Caporale was born into one of Italy’s most famous families of restaurateurs and is now extremely busy carrying the mantle for the fifth generation in Santa Catalina.
His great-great-grandmother, Nonna Graziela, opened her first restaurant in Pescara (Abruzzo) in 1918 and Manuel’s father, Michele, eventually decided to move to Mallorca. He has run Restaurante La Bottega di Michele on Calle Fabrica for the past 25 years, during which time Manuel has perfected the art of the trade, so much so that he is now the director and executive chef of three restaurants in the same street as his father’s establishment.
“I grew up surrounded by great food, seasonal organic produce of the very best quality. I remember going to the market with my parents every day as a child. I moved about the Italian Mediterranean coast quite a bit because my father was always opening and closing restaurants. He loved to keep changing and experimenting, he still does and then in 1998 we came to Mallorca. I was 17 at the time and started working in the restaurant at the very bottom, washing dishes, you name it; whatever had to be done. It was a great adventure but hard work, 14 to 15 hours a day, and it also opened my eyes to the importance of customer care and public relations.
“Anyway, I was still growing up in the business and I think it reached a point where my father and I didn’t quite see eye-to-eye. Like I said, he was always changing things on a daily basis.
“One day it would be the grill, the next pizza and then pasta, so I decided to take a break and I went to work for a year at La Taverna in Windsor.
“Apart from the chef at the time being the private chef for the Queen when she was at Windsor Castle, I learnt a great deal. The restaurant has always had an excellent reputation and the owners treated me so well. They made a huge effort to help me learn more about the business and that gave me a great deal of confidence,” Manuel told the Bulletin this week.
After his year in London, he returned to help the family business in Palma and the group began to grow.
From the small Hierbas Dulces and a small chiringuito beach bar in Arenal – Manuel would nip between the two as chef at lunchtime in Arenal and then cooking dinner in Calle Fabrica – the property next door became available. They decided to merge the two and create a larger restaurant. Bianco e Rosso opened some ten years ago in 2011 and since then he has been the chief executive of the Bianco and Rosso group of restaurants.
Then he opened De Gusto tapas restaurant. In 2018 it was Enoteca 1918, and a few months ago the Enoteca Club 1918 – all on Calle Fabrica. However, as chief executive and chef, Manuel did not slow down. It was quite the opposite in fact, but he admits that De Gusto was perhaps a step too far and that he was starting to really feel the stress and the pressure. So more or less on the eve of the pandemic, which no one knew was coming, he decided to close the restaurant and concentrate on the rest of the group.
Today, while his father takes care of the delicious “home” Italian cooking at La Bottega de Michele, Manuel runs the other three restaurants.
“I guess Bianco e Rosso is a more traditional Italian restaurant whereas at Enoteca we offer a more gourmet experience.
“At all of my restaurants we work extremely hard and with great passion to provide excellent food in a comfortable and professional environment and that to me is key.
“Having spent nearly all of my career to date working front and back of house, I have learnt the business side of running a restaurant. It’s not just about the food; it’s a bit like running a circus,” he joked.
But he is serious.
“Apart from sourcing the very best seasonal produce, I invest a great deal of time and effort in my staff. I don’t want people looking unhappy, I want to see everyone smiling. I don’t care if a client starts to get angry or shouts, we have to provide a calming influence and every problem has a solution – there’s never any need to panic, that’s a fatal mistake in this business, in fact in any walk of life. I’ve also found that having a laugh with the staff is much more productive. We’re a tight, close-knit team working alongside each other very long days, so we need to get on. We need to click, we need to be able to cover each other’s backs. And that comes from being the captain of a happy ship. If people are content, they are more motivated, excited and learn faster. Plus, the time passes much quicker in a bright and happy environment, and that contented confidence is what we all try and share with and transmit to our clients. We want then to know straightaway they have nothing to worry about. They can sit back, relax and enjoy their meal and we will take care of everything.
“Enoteca offers a gourmet experience, be it our tapas, some of which are unique and experimental, to main dishes of the very best meats and fish, not to mention the extensive wine collection we store.
“The club, which is just opposite, offers a more chilled atmosphere. We serve cocktails but guests can also choose to eat from our menu, so they get the best of two great worlds.
“It has not been easy. My wife has been a great help, and I’ve had to get my head round the business side of things, especially during the pandemic and now as we emerge from it. I have a clear business plan, it would be lovely to continue expanding but all that costs money. Yes, I could open a very big restaurant, but that would immediately mean more staff at extra cost, and while people are now going out again and the tourists are returning, it doesn’t mean they are going to spend lots of money. Having loads of tables very rarely turns into lots of money – like I said, it’s a circus, it’s one big balancing act and because of the war in Ukraine, operating costs compared to last year are around 30 percent more,. But the last thing I am going to do is try and save on the quality of our products and our menu – that’s what we’re famous for and we offer excellent value for money in all of the establishments.
“So, the past few years have really been a university experience for me. I think we’ve all had to adapt, my staff and I, to the various challenges we had never faced before, while keeping a smile on our faces and making sure all of our clients leave with one.
“I do my best to help all of my staff to become as professional as they can and I can honestly say that, despite the hardships, it works. We’ve managed to keep our heads above the water. And we have a lot of repeat customers, be they local residents or visitors, and there’s one thing which we must never forget – the client is the owner of the restaurant.
“In order to keep our repeat clients interested, we are always trying to create new and exclusive dishes, and so every experience in all of my restaurants is different. That said, there is one thing I and my staff can guarantee – and that is a quality, exciting and unique gastronomic experience in a relaxed and professional atmosphere in the very heart of Palma.”