Matteo Peraro and Davide Stupazzoni are two names that, unless you were friends with or related to, you would never really think of. They are not known across Italy, and you would not be expected to know them either. Their anonymity plays in stark contrast to another name that you will learn, that of Giorgio Serafini.
Together, these names provide the story of near failure and hope. They have everything to do with tradition and the abandonment of it, cultural character and cultural miscalculations. This is the story of, Melegatti; the original pandoro makers.
As one paper wrote, “this would be the last year that we get to have our blue box under the Christmas tree” when news struck of Melegatti being on the brink of financial collapse in 2017. For over 100 years, this family organisation in the heart of Verona was the ‘pandoro of choice’, one you rarely abandoned. There are others, Bauli for example spring to mind, but this is Italy, a nation where preference is tribal and where cake, any cake, is better than no cake.
Their failure was not enforced by global competition; there are no American chains threatening the livelihoods of Italian seasonal bakes. This was pure and domestic. A managerial divide that misunderstood market position and brand value. A company that for years fought off national rivals by being a simple family firm.
Change, in some things is bad. This was Melegatti’s downfall. They tried to be clever, too clever you could argue. They wanted to diversify and make croissants and other treats that people just did not associate with who they were. They built a factory in 2014 for this new approach, it has still to be used and probably never will be.
You can forgive organisational mistakes, but there was something more to this. It was a lack of understanding of the modern world and basic business practice. It showed in 2014 when they produced a poster that read, “Love your significant other, as long as they are fit and of the opposite sex”. For many, Melegatti, that family firm so associated with Christmas, had forgotten how to be human.
Naturally, there was a retraction but the damage had been done. They issued an apology, a Facebook post that tried to promote their embarrassment and take control of the situation. One comment, the most popular read, “Well done Melegatti, sometimes it helps to accept when you’ve done wrong”. It came from Giorgio Serafini, within hours, the internet had uncovered that Giorgio was the man behind the campaign and also Melegatti’s marketing manager.
Labelled the corporate bogeyman, Giorgio Serafini was a story not uncommon in Italian business, one where tradition is usurped for shock and confoundment. His job was to build, not destroy. To share, not take, and to give Melegatti a future that was created in the past.
His next managerial decisions didn’t help things either. He tried to use a reality show influencer, he tried to make the already seasonal product a limited package run, he just didn’t get it. He forgot about the thing that made their pandoro, uniqueness.
And then there are Matteo and Davide. They didn’t forget.
Heads of their respective departments, they did not need shock or awe. Whilst the internet took it upon itself to save Melegatti and Rummo pasta (another respected family brand) from financial disaster in 2017, they remembered what made the Melegatti pandoro, a Melegatti pandoro.
“In this dough” – explained Davide to The Corriere Della Sera, ”there is the secret not only of the taste of our products but also of their structure. It is what allows the pandoro to “rise”, to develop that perfect, starry shape. The same that was patented by our company at the end of the nineteenth century”
Davide and Matteo were labelled, the “angels of the mother yeast”. For the last year, they along with a third member of the team would keep this living, flavourful starter alive.
“We came even when we were not being paid” – explains Matteo. “Someone had to think about it, otherwise something unique would be lost forever. When the company went bankrupt it was the curator who made sure we did our job: the company’s value was also linked to the preservation of the basic dough.”
It has been a year of hell for this once loved business. The staff through no fault of their own were failed by those that haven’t taken any responsibility, and probably never will. For all the mistakes, missteps and poor business management, there were those that could not let it fail. Those that didn’t want a Christmas ‘without a blue box under the tree’.
There were no bailouts, no threats, no tears. For Davide and Matteo, it was just a sense of duty.