19 years as La Porchetta franchisees, and still going strong
When Tonia and Luigi Scarrione took on the La Porchetta franchise at Frankston in Melbourne in 1999, it was a complete role reversal of how the husband and wife had run their previous business.
In the 1990s, the couple owned and ran a mechanics workshop, with Luigi hands-on fixing diesel trucks while Tonia handled payroll and bookkeeping in the background. That all changed when Luigi was injured at work.
Suddenly their business was no longer a long-term option and they were forced to find an alternative income source with Tonia taking on the heavy lifting.
Perhaps it is no surprise they ended up at La Porchetta. Tonia’s sister-in-law was a franchisee of the Lilydale franchise, and Tonia and Luigi’s daughter Angela was at the time working part-time at another outlet while at university.
What may be surprising, however, is that despite Tonia’s instincts, and her rejection of the Frankston site as “old, dirty and run down” (she much preferred the smaller, new outlet at Sunshine), the couple signed up to the underperforming restaurant and have been there ever since.
They have notched up 19 years, although mother and daughter point out that at 72 years old Luigi is now semi-retired. He is the fixer, the maintenance man who has saved them thousands of dollars over the years by tackling the handyman jobs. And now he gets to enjoy eating out with his mates at his own restaurant every Friday night.
La Porchetta franchise a family affair
So why did Tonia give in and end up at the store she rejected?
“My accountant knew the previous owners’ accountant and told me ‘all you can do is go up’.” With Tonia heading up the business on her own for nine months, hands on and with a ferocious work ethic, the business did improve, but she admits the early days were hard.
“We promoted the business, we advertised that there were new owners, but it didn’t help. The place was so badly run down, it had a bad reputation. It took 12 months to get people coming in through word of mouth.”
Within that time the couple had eventually sold the workshop, and Luigi came on board in a part-time role. Tonia had been working from 10am until midnight, seven days a week.
“When you invest your money, you work so hard for it, you have to manage it and make sure everything is going right. You pay your bills first, then you have what money is left.
“My goal was to get it running and stay there until it is time to retire. I didn’t want to sell.”
Many of their customers feel the same – they don’t want the Scarriones to leave. Some loyal customers are regulars, eating out or grabbing takeaway from La Porchetta three times a week.
The restaurant has become a real family affair. Angela gave up her social work and joined the more flexible hospitality business when she became a mother herself. “I came into the restaurant to work with Mum, and we’re able to help each other.”
That was 16 years ago.
Running a franchise
Angela has the front-of-house responsibilities. “I’ve learned all areas of the business, though,” she says. This means she can step up if a temperamental chef walks out or the pizza maker is sick.
Tonia returned to her main skillset, bookkeeping, stock control and payroll. That has been invaluable with a team of 13 permanent part-timers on the books.
“I don’t employ casuals, I like to keep my staff. A few are due for long service leave.”
Tonia has done payroll from the age of 17, working out wages manually for 150 factory workers, so she doesn’t sweat over today’s industrial relations landscape.
“We are on a workplace agreement until I sell the business, then it will move to awards,” she says. “It’s your business, so you do the right thing.”
They say they were always happy with support levels from the franchisor, and improvements over the past five years have included regular visits from their business-development manager.
“I’m loyal to them because if I need anything, within an hour I get a reply.”
The head office can offer reassurance about performance and comes up with ideas to boost business. There is also a mystery shopper whose feedback helps build a store rating.
Feedback is given to the network overall about areas that can be improved.
Despite trading in the one spot for so many years, Tonia is talking to La Porchetta about selling up and moving to a site closer to home and her daughter. “Angela can run it and I’d be behind the scenes.”
For now, the Frankston outlet has been renovated and this has given Tonia a new lease of life. “I’m not ready to retire. I’m 65, but it gives me something to do. We take it year by year, and we’ve just renewed for 10 years.
“When things are good you get tired but so happy things are still going well, and people are coming back.
“We have our ups and downs. We’re comfortable, I’m not a millionaire but the bills are being paid. We’re still working, we don’t rip people off. We enjoy it.”