Starting your own business isn’t easy. Starting your own business in a foreign country is a whole different ball park. Yegide Matthews, Creative Director, and I had the opportunity to sit down with Selvaggia Pizzetti, owner of Crave.it in New York City. We learned how she managed to create a successful business in one of the toughest cities in the world. Crave.it is a contemporary gelato-café, Italian bakery, and lounge. They serve gelato, specialty coffee drinks, Italian pastries, and savory dishes. Selvaggia and her team were kind enough to let us take a few treats home and try a few dishes off their menu after the interview. The food was displayed so beautifully and Crave.it clearly understands the concept: You eat with your eyes first.
YHM: The previous general manager pointed out that there are differences between Italian pastries and other countries’ pastries. What are some of the major differences?
Selvaggia Pizzetti: Italian pastries are not too sweet. There is a very little amount of butter used so they’re very light. They usually use very old fashion ingredients. With Italian pastries, you have to throw them away after 2 days. There are no additional ingredients. They are very, very fresh. You can eat one cupcake and then be full but you can eat 3 or 4 Italian tiramisu, and still want more. The Italian pastries here aren’t too big in size because I think it’s better to taste different flavors.
YHM: It says on your website that you wanted to “bring the Italy that you know to New York City.” Was there something missing in the baking and food industry in New York City that you wanted to see or create?
SP: Well, here’s the thing. I’ve been living here for 16 years. In New York , I found everything that you could possibly want except a cappuccino and a croissant. So I thought, ‘maybe, I’ll do that now.’ Even if you bring your own food to a country, you have to adapt it to the tradition, culture, and appetites of the culture you live in, in order to sell it. When opening this place, I didn’t want to compromise with American culture, not that there’s something wrong with it. I wanted to bring 100% of Italy as it is, which is challenging. People have a hard time understanding the concept. They’re not used to it. So for me, since I opened this place, it was always about educating one person at a time.
YHM: Did you have any doubts or fears about starting your own bakery/gelato café in America? And how did you overcome them?
SP: Absolutely. It’s not only America but especially New York, where there’s so much competition. Since I opened this place, 4 new cafes opened up within 2 blocks. So it is scary because opening a business is a challenge. To open this kind of business here is very detrimental sometimes but that’s why when I made my business plan. I developed the business in such a way where the cash flow would not only come from the café but also from the wholesale and catering side of the business. A big key to being successful in business today is by distinguishing yourself. Yeah, I have a coffee shop and there are 2 coffee shops in 2 blocks but I do gelato too, and they don’t. I do wholesale, high-end catering, weddings, gelato classes for kids, and baking classes for adults, and they don’t.
YHM: What’s your favorite item on the menu?
SP: Oh my gosh. There are so many. Too many. This is something that’s very simple because it reminds me of when I was a kid in Italy. It’s called Pizza Bianca, which is a white foccacia bread. That was my breakfast all the time. There was a bread shop and they used to make it fresh. If my father took me to school, he would buy me a small piece. When I opened Crave.it, I knew I wanted to make the exact same thing so that’s my favorite thing on the menu.
YHM: From your perspective, why do you think Crave.it is a New York must-visit bakery/café?
SP: We give you a wholesome experience. Not only on a food level but also on a visual level. We try to take care of everything from the visual aspect to the food aspect, and we want people to have an experience that they can’t have in any other coffee shop. Crave.it is not better or worse, it’s just different. When you come in, you have a square in the front. Then you have your pastries and gelato. Then you have the seating area and then you go to the back, and you have a lounge area. In the meantime, as you’re passing through, you can see the kitchen where everything is prepared. We joke that this place looks like a bowling alley so we had to make sure that every section gives you something different.
SJL: My long-term dream or goal is to open up a bakery or café. If you could give one piece of advice to those who want to start their own business, what would it be?
SP: If you want to become defined, you have to be able to become the top. In order to stay and survive in business, you have to be able to afford to pay for the losses for a long time. You have to be very persistent, very patient, and understand that you have to work to be the best. People will come if you let them know that you exist. You need a solid marketing campaign and a business plan.
YHM: If you could have one dessert for the rest of your life, what would it be?
SP: Hahaha, that is so cruel. I would say probably gelato. Any kind of gelato.
YHM: What has been the highlight of having your own business so far?
SP: The highlight for me is that I started noticing people understanding my business. People are appreciating it more and more. I’m also starting to recognize more faces.
We truly hope for the best for Crave.it and wish to see it grow, and succeed even further. We don’t have any doubts that it won’t because they put their heart and soul into every aspect of the business. It was truly a pleasure to listen to Pizzetti’s story and inspiration behind some of the dishes. We hope her story inspires those of you who wish to embark on a similar path.