Steeped In Tradition
Italian and Thai cultures are both steeped in tradition, pride and honest, down-to-earth lifestyles. Centuries of carefully crafted art and culture, food and drink, respect for Mother Nature and an unremitting love for the family are cherished above all else. With this in mind, it was almost written in the stars that Cavaliere Enzo Peroni would one day come to call Thailand his home and introduce his beloved appreciation for genuine food, the best grains, oils, wines and the creamiest milk to his audience at Café Buongiorno.
The inspiration to establish Café Buongiorno was drawn from centuries of tradition and from Enzo’s extended family up and down the land of his native Italy. The convergence of deep-rooted traditions of the Celleno, Peroni, Scarino, Mattei and Panetta families was the seed of inspiration that has grown over three decades to provide a home for tens of thousands of Café Buongiorno aficionados and faithful Thai and Italian employees.
Such has been Enzo’s dedication to his life in Asia and that of Italian companies and everything Italian, he was honoured by the president of Italy and the Italian Government with the ‘Order of the star of Italian solidarity’ and was made a ‘knight’ or ‘Cavaliere’ for his outstanding contribution of promoting Italian culture to the world.
“Our roots at Café Buongiorno are born from tradition and pride of genuine food and for the land which belonged to my grandfathers and great-grandfathers. Pride accomplished though hard-work and the production of the best wines, the creamiest milk and the best quality oil and grain. It took many long discussions with different family members in Umbria, Lazio, Alto Lazio, Tuscany and Sicily before we all agreed to introduce our culture, lifestyle, recipes and way of doing things in the establishment of Café Buongiorno as a cultural centre,” said Cavaliere Enzo Peroni.
“I was born in a small Etruscan village called Celleno in Alto Lazio, which is on the border of the two great regions of Tuscany and Umbria. I was influenced by nature, animals and the countryside from a young age. My family owned a farm and I grew up with a great appreciation of genuine, simple food prepared and cooked with natural ingredients, all of which were grown on our estate. I love nature and in equal measure I love the great artist and naturalist Leonardo da Vinci. I don’t believe anyone can be a complete person without having a love for nature.
“Nature represents all forms of life. I am a very curious person and curiosity is the key to learning and observation. Everyone should ask themselves How, What, Which, Who, Why, etc. to keep learning. Curiosity has been the foundation of my life and a large part of that comes from my desire to learn from Leonardo da Vinci. Curiosity also inspired me to do many things in life including writing two books called Tales of a Young Boy,” adds the Italian knight.
From an early age, the young Enzo was exposed to his family’s and nation’s rich history. This included learning – and valuing – his family’s coat of arms which we were given to his ancestors in the 9th Century. Developing a love for nature, his region, history and geography instilled in him a deep desire and love for authentic food. All of this, he proudly states, is “printed on my soul and my heart. If you don’t have this, it is impossible to copy.”
After leaving school, Enzo, like many famous Italians before him, decided it was time to stretch his wings and explore the wider world. His travels first took him to Paris, France and the Sorbonne, where he studied French literature and writers such as Proust, de Balzac, Zola and Voltaire. From the French capital, he crossed the English Channel and settled in London where he relished English literature from Chaucer, Milton and Shakespeare among others.
“What I learned in the thousands of books I read as a young man, I incorporated into my career. I applied it in equal measure to tasks like marketing, management and psychology. You see, I’m a firm believer that education gives you the tools necessary to understand the world around you. Mechanical intelligence is a combination of multiple disciplines. From London, my passion took me to back to Rome, then to Hong Kong and eventually to China in 1977. During the many years I spent in China, I introduced over 100 Italian companies spanning industries as varied as textiles, food processing, construction, chemical, light industry and steel manufacturing. To ensure these firms succeeded, I had to study every aspect of each business and in some case help restructure them.
“From my head office in Hong Kong, I managed not only these Italian businesses in China which were operating in Shanghai, Sichuan, Beijing, but also operations in Taiwan, Korea, Denmark, Finland and Canada. My motto was ‘Nobody is better than you if you become better.’ At 29 years of age, I was the Chief Executive Officer of a hugely successful Italian conglomerate. Some said I was the youngest chief executive in Hong Kong at the time and most certainly the only Italian. In fact, during my early years, many of my Chinese counterparts gave me the nickname Marco Polo. I think they only knew of two Italians; Marco Polo and the great footballer Paolo Rossi.
“Virtually all the other foreign senior executives I met and dealt with throughout the 1980s and early 1990s were British. I had a reputation as someone who was very, very demanding. I don’t think anyone else was as demanding as I was. If my managers did not do their daily reports in my company, they would lose their job. It was as simple as that. Daily reporting is a means of corporate communication,” he recalls.
When then Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping announced the “Open Door Policy” in 1978, it presented unparalleled opportunities for Western companies. However, not all who entered enjoyed success, many failed. Some spectacularly. But for those who could understand Chinese culture and how individual minds worked, success was within reach. With a head full of unique ideas, psychological characteristic mapping and people management skills, Cavaliere Enzo Peroni tasted levels of success other CEOs could only dream of.
“We instinctively understood the pattern of doing business in China. You see, as a businessman you must understand the potential and the liability of markets in which you are competing. Using my knowledge of history and psychology, coupled with my expertise in textiles, after only three months of doing business we struck a US$20 million deal,” he proudly says.
Over the following years, Cavaliere Enzo Peroni continued to win new contracts for his Italian companies and with that success he also won the love and respect of many of his Chinese partners. Continuously spreading the wonders of Italian culture through cuisine, history and friendship, Enzo was awarded the title of Cavaliere on 21st September 2005, an honour he is rightly proud to hold.
But for those who remember their history, the curtain was coming down on one of the last bastions of British rule in the Far East after 156 years. Hong Kong was on the precipice of returning to Chinese rule and with it all the implications of being a quasi-commercial-communist state. The 28th and last governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten was tasked with the transfer of sovereignty on 1st July 1997 and his final message in his capacity of governorship was a telegram to UK authorities in London, which simply read: “I have relinquished the administration of this government. God Save The Queen.” To many, it was the irrefutable end of the British Empire.
While a number of businesses reassessed their operations in Hong Kong and up to 100,000 citizens scrambled to secure visas to move overseas, life in the city state continued. A little bump in the road was unlikely to trouble the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China. At exactly the same time the national, political and cultural show was being played out in former colony, elsewhere in Asia a financial storm was sweeping over the entire Southeast Asia region, having begun when Thailand devalued its currency from the American dollar.
“One of the main reasons we said goodbye to China and Hong Kong was the handover in 1997. There was a lot of panic at the time, unnecessary panic if you ask me, and people were leaving left, right and centre. Ten of my managers quit and left for Canada, Australia and elsewhere. We came to Bangkok and liked it and decided to make our home here. Not long after we settled here, I established the EP Group of Companies and, after lengthy discussion with my family in Italy, I started Café Buongiorno.
“We hosted many cultural events at and on behalf of Café Buongiorno and I am proud to say that Italy is the leading nation in the world with 58 UNESCO Heritage sites. From my personal perspective, and taking my inspiration from Leonardo da Vinci, I organised many events before I was forced to cease operations due to Covid-19. For example, in 2019, we celebrated the 500-year anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death with an event at Hyatt Regency Hotel where many of my acquaintances attended. Doctors, engineers, architects and businessmen all joined the event and enjoyed discussing the various aspects of Leonardo’s many talents,” said Cavaliere Enzo Peroni.
As mentioned earlier, Thailand and Italy have a long-standing relationship and some of Italy’s most notable Italian architects built many of Bangkok’s most iconic buildings. For example, the present Government House in Bangkok was designed and built by Corrado Feroci and Ercole Manfredi, while the stunning royal reception hall, Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall was designed by Carlo Allegri, Annibale Rigotti, Ercole Manfredi and Mario Tamagno. Working together, Rigotti and Tamagno were also commissioned to design other magnificent landmarks in Bangkok such as palaces, the main railway station at Hua Lampong, an old Catholic church of Portuguese origin and a memorial library among others.
“We Italians are fascinated by the stories of our compatriots, the architects, engineers, sculptors, decorators and artisans who were commissioned by the great King Chulalongkorn to add beauty and majesty to Bangkok. Having a residence in Hua Hin, both I and Madame Theresa are particularly fond of the beautiful Hua Hin railway station, which was designed by Ferdinando Canova and his Italian team. Furthermore, one of our favourite hotels in Bangkok, the Mandarin Oriental, was restored to its former glory in 2003 by Giorgio Berlingieri,” added Cavaliere Enzo.
Under his watchful eye, the EP Group of Companies continues to work with Italian industry and distributes heavy machinery and other equipment and products across Asia as well as throughout the Middle East through its many divisions. As for Café Buongiorno, the much-loved eatery closed its doors after decades of serving the best Italian coffees, biscotti and light snacks, much to the sadness of its faithful clientele.
Meanwhile, Café Buongiorno Group of Companies recently opened a state-of-the-art production facility in the Bangna-Trat area which makes, bakes and freezes bakery products, donuts, Gelato, Granita, Semifreddo and Pinguino (Gelato sticks), plus various pastas, gnocchi, soups, appetisers, cold pressed juices and Prosecco cocktails. Other products handled daily at the production facility include handcrafted popcorn, energy bars, granola and cornflakes as well as the fine wine distribution centre.
“Café Buongiorno was first established in the Ramkhamhaeng area where we did a lot of lifestyle events, which included live theatre with Italian plays. We were one of the first hospitality companies to bring such productions to the city. Café Buongiorno Ramkhamhaeng grew very quickly so we moved to Sukhumvit 33 and an old Thai house which had formerly been a German restaurant. I wanted our new home to become a lifestyle centre and we hosted many events with brands like Versace, Ferrari, Lamborghini.
“As the business grew, we experienced some hitches as our production centres were in different locations. This required a lot of effort and was very time consuming to manage. Therefore, we decided to build Café Buongiorno Production Centre in Bangna and consolidate all Café Buongiorno Production Centers. At the same time, as we have acquired an unparalleled experience in retail and production together with our wide array of products, our customers are asking if we can reopen our retail business as a showroom. In the near future, we will launch Cafe Buongiorno Per tutti, Cafe Buongiorno Gelateria and Cafe Buongiorno Biscottificio,” says Cavaliere Enzo Peroni.
To oversee constant product development, Café Buongiorno has an R&D facility in Italy which is working closely with the local division. New products are being developed on an almost weekly basis before being put through several rounds of testing. Throughout his career, Enzo has placed much emphasis on communication, management and training and these three pillars of corporate success continue to play an important role at Café Buongiorno.
“Having a huge range of products is a challenge because a lot of training has to be done both for our staff and customers so they understand what is behind Café Buongiorno products. Training is one of my main focuses and a major part of our policy. This is the reason why we are now carrying out a continuous training programme both for our local staff and our overseas partners.
“We are set to open several Café Buongiorno Retail Academy Centres where customers can experience and see the whole range of Café Buongiorno products. Furthermore, we are planning to open Café Buongiorno production centres in Asia Pacific and are now in discussions with partners in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. In addition to this, we have just signed an agreement to export Café Buongiorno Biscotti, our flagship product, and Café Buongiorno Popcorn to Singapore and other products will be finalised within October,” added Cavaliere Enzo Peroni.
While many businessmen in their golden years might be persuaded to take their foot off the throttle and enjoy the life they have created, suitors keep knocking on Enzo’s door with new proposals. From a well-known Thai university wanting to name a faculty after him to a regional government seeking his services as an advisor, he continues to be as active as he was 40 years ago. So, how does a driven man switch off and relax? What hobbies can pull him away from his corporate world?
“Although we lived in Hong Kong for many years, I now consider Thailand as my second home. Madame Theresa and I have a home in Hua Hin and we enjoy going there on a regular basis to relax. I have a thriving herb garden at my home by the sea and when I’m not tending to my plants, I like to cycle along the beach. I also enjoy reading, playing guitar and having the odd kick about at football,” he says with a huge smile.
So, as our time together comes to a close, I ask a question that has been on my mind for many years. Why does Thailand, a country known for its hot and spicy cuisine have such a love affair with Italian cuisine?
“Italian food is so popular in Thailand because our cuisine is very simple at its heart. Thai people like simplicity. With good ingredients you can make great food, you don’t need to be elaborate. Ravioli, spaghetti, lasagna, tortellini, even gnocchi are all delicious. In fact, from all the products we have at Café Buongiorno, our biscotti is the soul and the heart of our company and probably the best biscotti in the world both for quality and range. Also, the Café Buongiorno Enzo Peroni Luxury Box is a super premium product appreciated worldwide by many of our VIP customers. It is our flagship product.
“We are now training the next generation of leaders for Café Buongiorno. I make it my mission to ensure that all our staff have the opportunity to progress through the company. However, to replace me as chief executive would be very difficult at the moment! The most important thing is to give our staff the opportunity to grow. I have quite a few staff who have been with us for over 30 years. We teach all our staff the company philosophy in three languages; Italian, Thai and English. And everyone learns about our family tree,” he says.
The Café Buongiorno Philosophy
What is Café Buongiorno?
Centuries of emotions, traditions and genuine food passed down from generation to generation; a way of life. Love of simple things; the family, friends. Sadness and happiness.
The smell of freshly baked bread in the kitchen or freshly made gnocchi.
The goodbyes and the arrivals. The past which is always present.
This is Buongiorno.
Emotions of an Italian day of times passed but still present today.
For more information and to order Café Buongiorno products, please call Khun Natalina at 062-494-1649.