A recipe for success: 'Two fridges and a lot of passion'

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The Independent Online

Italian food retailer, Umberto's, was launched in Thame by Umberto Della Valle in 1997.

Being passionate about what you do in business invariably leads to success; Umberto Della Valle, 40, is a good example. Coming to England from his native Italy, Umberto found employment with award-winning baker, Dan Schickentanz in 1995. It wasn't long before Umberto became the manager of the shop, a post that he held for the next 18 months. But when his employer expanded, Umberto made the brave decision to take over the shop lease and start his own business.

"Umberto's" was launched as a specialist retailer of Italian food in February 1997 with, as Umberto remembers, "two fridges and a lot of passion". His dream was to source the very best Italian food products and he started by sourcing hand-made pasta. Within two years he was able to offer 1,000 different types.

This passion didn't go unnoticed and he won the "Best Italian Pasta Shop" award from the Pizza and Pasta Association in 1999. The subsequent media interest put him on the map and he came to national attention when he launched "teddy bear" shaped pasta during the Children in Need appeal.

His growing success posed a big challenge - should he open more shops? "I look at everything that comes into my shop and taste breads, oils, balsamic vinegars and olives every day", says Umberto. "I came to the conclusion that I could only do this with one shop." Instead, Umberto is developing a range of "own-brand" products. Top of the range is "Fior d'Olio": extra virgin olive oil produced from the first cold pressing of hand-picked "Coratina" olives from south-east Italy.

Umberto admits that the birth of his daughters Francesca, 7, and Sofia, 4, helped shape his thinking. "What's the point of success if I can't get to play with them in the evenings? And anyway, it's not just about business - I sell things that I love."