Samoa’s best restaurant, according to the Samoa Tourism Awards, is a family love affair.
It’s a beautiful story of how one should never give up when you are truly passionate about something. In the case of the Rossi family who run Paddles Restaurant at Matautu, it involves hospitality and food.
On Saturday, Paddles collected the Samoa Tourism Excellence Award for the Best Restaurant. The $2,000 award sponsored by Samoa Stationery and Books was voted upon by diners and mainly tourists.
But it’s not the value of the award that’s the most important aspect of it, according to Giovanni Rossi. He say it is what the award means to his family.
“Samoa has definitely taught me and my siblings the most beautiful lesson of being a family,” he says.
The dream started when Vaatofu Rossi wanted to bring all her children to Samoa. Giovanni used to live in Italy while his sisters Dora and Kelita lived in the United States and New Zealand.
“Our mother who is so clever invested in buying the restaurant,” Mr. Rossi says. “Then she started screaming for help so all of us came to Samoa.”
It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was a disaster.
“We got the restaurant but it was just not working out. It was so difficult and we had banks calling us every second day, we had bounced cheques and the formula did not work at all.”
For Giovanni and business partner, Dora, the odds were ridiculous.
“We had a very difficult time in trying to get to the locals because we did not speak the language. Mum tried her best but it did not work and I believe we were missing the key of communication part of it.
“So we looked at them in a very different way because we thought they should’ve work for us in a better way and of course our staff members were looking at us like, who are you? What do you want? Why are you trying to teach us how to cook pasta, lasagna? What does this mean?”
One day the dream came unstuck.
“So Dora and I decided that it’s time to give up. So we closed the restaurant one day and we got a bottle of wine for me and my sisters and started drinking.
“We shed tears, we hugged each other and said after this, everyone will go their separate ways.
“I will be going back to Italy, my other sister Dora will go back to New Zealand and Kelita will go back to U.S.A and our parents well they have money so they will be alright.
“So we were sad like it was the last time we were going to see each other and it was like the biggest goodbyes in the movies.”
But that’s not where this story ends.
“Then our parents came up to the restaurant and saw that everything was locked up. They saw us drunk because we had too much wine and we kept telling them that we cannot do it anymore because it was too much.”
Vaatofu wouldn’t have any of it.
“Our mother gave us the look that says you will not give up,” he said. “She said you are Samoans and Samoan people never give up. She said you are just too spoilt because of your father and the luxury from your previous life in that you were at.
“Here in Samoa if you want something you pull up your sleeves and you fight and keep going. Nobody will give second chances. It’s your shop so make it happen because we rely on all of you. How else are we going to make money if you guys cannot do the job?”
Something snapped in the Rossis then.
“We got a piece of paper and started drafting a menu,” Giovanni recalls. “Then my sister said she can bake cakes and our mother said that her oka is the best in the world. Our father was also involved in making fresh pasta. We all ended up working for this menu and then the following day we started getting clients and more clients.
“We hired waiters. Our mother was in the kitchen translating our Italian dishes and recipes to the locals and our father was demonstrating the making of pastas and we have been busy ever since for the past eleven years.”
The business expanded three years ago when they opened Milani Cafe in the heart of the Apia Township.
“We serve breakfast and lunch there and then dinner at Paddles. We are so busy and to be honest if people don’t have reservation they won’t be able to have dinner that’s how busy we are.”
But instead of sitting on their laurels and enjoying their success, the Rossis know there is much more.
“If people come to Paddles, our mother is doing the dishes in the kitchen and we are workers.”
As for the winning the award, Giovanni said: “I never expected to win something tonight. Seeing everyone clapping was such a privilege to be in this country because the beautiful Samoa actually gives opportunities.
“As our mother taught us, we just needed to believe in ourselves no matter what, it’s in our genes and our blood. We just need to fight and get it home and that is what we do every single day.”
At Paddles and Milani, food is about love and family.
“We work together, love each other and fight for each other. I can say that without God we wouldn’t be here but He gave us the chance and so we are very thankful.
“The biggest thing is that it’s a family dream. Samoa has definitely taught me and my sisters the most beautiful lesson of being a family.”