Moving to a different country is always a great step forward for anyone who hasn’t done it before. However, starting a new business in a new country is an even bigger challenge.
In today’s Watchtime episode, New Yorker, Ashley Bartner will tell us her adventures in Italy, the place she chose to found her hotel/cooking school business; La Tavola Marche.
Back in 2006, Ashley and her husband Jason were living in New York City. They were working in public relations and as a professional chef. It was then when they got married and decided to spend their honeymoon in Italy, that they fell in love with the country place. A year and a half later, they moved to the Mediterranean country and changed their life forever.
“We had a lot of ideas: the name of the business, how we wanted it to be, then I started our blog to give credibility to our ideas… and all of this happened before having a property!” Ashley confesses. Although, the challenges they faced were many: language, the Italin burocracy, etc.
Just half an hour away from both Florence and Bologna, Marche is a rural Italian region surrounded by nature and top gastronomy. The first steps when they decided in which region they will establish the business, was to promote the area across their blog, so people could have the opportunity to connect with them emotionally before getting to their farm.
Ashley’s major in theatre helps her when using her creative ideas for promotion: engaging videos, live shows, etc. All their efforts allowed them to establish their business quickly. In terms of marketing, Ashley always tries to put all her ideas together, to discuss them afterwards with Jason.
On a different note, when we ask Ashley about working with her husband, she is all laughs: “it takes patience and sense of humour”. Her best advice for all those people who are thinking about starting a new business is to do it! “Why not? Do your homework, and research as much as you can. Become an expert in your chosen field”.
You can find all about La Tavola Marche on Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and on their website , and on their own podcast Podcast from Italy!
The Watch Time show, sponsored by digital agency mint twist. Welcome to Watch Time, the show for marketing industry influencers, looking for creative and digital ideas. We’ll be exploring new technology, development and sharing the stories behind high profile industry players. I’m Aleksandra King from
Minttwist. Welcome to another episode of the watch time podcast. I’m Aleksandra King from Minttwist and today I’m going to be speaking to Ashley, who’s the owner of ‘La Tavola Marche’, which is a hotel and a cooking school in a stunning part of Italy. I discovered this cooking school when I was looking for a holiday for my family and I back in 2015, and I didn’t want to do the sort of typical holiday, you know, just lie on the beach, go to the hotel, eat, go back to the beach, that sort of thing. I wanted to do something different. So I actually thought it would be a great idea to go to a cooking school in the middle of the beautiful Italian countryside and, you know, have lovely bonding experiences with my girls and my husband, learning how to make a beautiful Italian pasta and pizza and so on and get to know the sights and sound of authentic Italy.
And I have to say it was probably one of the best holidays we have ever been on for so many different reasons. It was just all round. If I asked my kids now one of their favourite holidays, that is on our list. we also got to know and really love the owners, Ashley and Jason, lovely people, very inspirational, excellent business people. And I thought, you know, that they really should come on the podcast because their story is one of bravery. It’s one of managing relationships and adventure, having fun and having a sense of humour. So I thought let’s, let’s learn something from them and get them on our shows, guests. Hello, Ashley Ciao! Thank you so much for inviting me! It’s great to hear your voice and see you again after these years. So Ash, just for our audience, can you tell us a bit about your background and how it all started?
Happily! So this was in 2006. My husband and I had been living in New York for eight years and we decided to get married. Jason was a professional chef and I had been working in private clubs doing kind of member relations, newsletters, helping members who are joining these golf and resort clubs, kind of connect in different ways to the club they were joining. And we came to Italy on our honeymoon in 2006 and I’ll never forget. It was, Jason was so brilliant. He said, why have a big wedding? Let’s have a small wedding and a rocking honeymoon. And that was kind of the quote that changed our life forever because we came to Italy and discovered a quality of life that we were missing in New York. Neither one of us had an ounce of Italian blood, but there was something about this place that spoke to us.
And so we returned home and literally a year and a half later, we were living here in this farmhouse. We shut off our television, we started learning Italian, we wrote a business plan, I started a blog and website before we even had a property. No, I thought, well, we’ve got a mission statement, I’ve got an idea, we know what the name.. we know of the name that we want it to be. But we didn’t have an investor, we didn’t have a property, we weren’t even sure where we were going to be exactly. And I thought, well, it’s important this was, I said in 2006, I didn’t even quite understand SEO, but I felt like it was important to start some history on the web and give ourselves some credibility. And how, how old were you guys? 25. I say if we could do it anyone can, because we had spent all of our money on the honeymoon and the wedding and it was time to start saving again.
And so it wasn’t that we came from a bunch of money or even found a big investor. We just had the willpower to make it work. Kind of by luck we found this place and sure enough, we arrived in mid- December. So it was December 20th, and we got here right before Christmas and then our first guests were in March. Right? So that’s, I mean, that’s an incredible story because you’re a proper entrepreneur in every sense of the word where you literally no money, just this idea, this brave heart passion, and off you go, it’s an incredible story. What’s the worst that could happen. If it all fails, we lived in Italy. At least we learned something from it.
And thankfully it went forward from there, although I’m sure you must have faced many, many, many challenges that foreign country and all. Between learning the language.
I would say the idea is an extended honeymoon, but the reality is quite a bit more work. Yeah
So what are some of the challenges that you’ve faced?
So obviously the language you need to be able to communicate, and that’s the only way you’re going to really properly assimilate. And then of course, the famous Italian bureaucracy, which could be frustrating at times to say the least. I remember you talking about this, I remember. Well, and we’re trying to get our citizenship now, so it just continues in other ways, but it’s something that you have to realize.. you have to learn how to navigate the bureaucratic waters. But in a sense you have to still network the same way that you would have to in the States. You know, it’s who you know, and who can help you out.
Absolutely. But also with language. I mean, if you just tell our listeners a little bit about where you are in Italy, because the region you’re in I’m sure is mostly predominantly only speaking Italian, is that right?
Absolutely. So we are located in the ‘La Marche’, which is a little known region in Italy that is about, to put it into perspective for some people, we’re about two and a half hours East of Florence. So it would go Tuscany, Umbria, La Marche and then the Adriatic sea. And we’re bordered by Emilia-Romagna to the North and Abruzzo to the South. It’s a beautiful region. It’s one of the largest in Italy, but it is very rural. Pardon me? What’s the closest airport to you just to give perspective, is it Florence? So, actually for anyone within the UK or inner European, we, there is an airport in Ancona, which is about an hour and a half away and it’s on the coast. So that makes it nice and easy. Otherwise Florence and Bologna are both about two and a half hours drive. Okay.
So you’re in this gorgeous region, which is slightly, you know, it’s off the beaten track. How do you then take this, this, this 500 year old farmhouse, this mad business idea, let’s be honest, and then market it to, I suppose, to the world, to everyone in America and in the UK and so on? How did you do that?
Well, I did it months before we ever arrived. At the beginning we’d started a website and a blog. When we first got the idea, I’ll never forget, Jason’s grandma sitting in San Francisco with her before we moved and I was starting this blog and she said, what is this? Who’s even going to read it? I mean, she didn’t, no one knew what a blog was. And I said.. the idea that it’s not a flash in the pan, this isn’t paying for followers or paying for advertising or anything,
It’s a slow burn. Organic! and pays off, yes, and pays off in years to come. So, since we knew we had some time to grow the business, the first thing I had to do, and since we were living in a, choosing a rural area and little known area, was always part of our business plan was first and foremost, even before we promote our business, we have to promote our region because how will people know to come to us if they don’t even know what they can do in La Marche? And it’s so much about the location. So much. And then it was also starting to just share our story so people could connect with us emotionally before they even got here. I just got to put it out there. And that was the other thing in New York where we’ve had the plan to move, and as we were starting to, as this was all starting to unfold, I told anyone and everyone that would listen, I didn’t care.
I think one of the things that connects with people too is not sugar-coating everything. It’s more honest, it’s more real, it’s more relatable as well, than always it just being Rose, coloured glasses, you know?
Yeah, well, even if you take one element of your business, which is actually a huge element, which is your gardening, I mean, you have a massive plot. And on that plot, you have all sorts of different vegetables. But I know how it is. You’re so dependent on the weather. Any farmer would have those problems. So you’ve got to run this cooking school, cook all the food, look after the guests, make sure the hotel, the inn is tidy, but then you’ve also got all that to actually put food onto the table, which is fresh, authentic Italian food. And you’re relying on the elements and that within itself, I know as a gardener, it’s a humongous challenge.
It is. It drives Jason crazy at times because like this year he wanted it to be his glory garden, and he ended up with a broken shoulder and then, wet cold mornings and nights and the tomatoes don’t look the way he wanted, the pumpkin’s look fantastic, but you always have kind of a yin and yang. It’s starting to rain. I hope it’s still works okay. Fingers crossed!
Something that you’re extremely good at besides, you know, putting yourself out there and all the bravery, is having this creative eye to be able to really tell, you know, what looks good and how to portray something in the right way. Like you’re saying, to either tell a story or to entice someone, how do you go about coming up with such creative content? Like where .. do you have a plan in mind before you start? Or, I mean, how does it work?
Well, thank you. I think it comes from a long line of big fish storytellers in my family first and foremost. And then I majored in theatre, so I think there’s this creative putting on a show for me. And I remember Jason at one point had said, are you going to be okay, not doing acting and not doing these things?
And I said, are you crazy, we put on a show every night with our guests?! I said, I set the stage, whether it’s the table, we put the lighting on and we have those little lights. I said, we put on our costumes, we have our monologues, dialogues, all of these stories to share. We do a dance between the two of us of trying to keep it, looks so smooth and effortless. And I thought, no, I, I put out a show, I put out a production. Every night we have guests. I always put my mind in, what do I want to see as the, as the guest, how would I want to experience what I want to have? And then you start to see tons of deals or tons of photos where things start to look too perfect. And then it makes me want to switch it up and go back to my phone and use things that feel more unedited, a little bit more raw and real and not so pretty and perfect.
It’s almost like, it is like an acting that you don’t want to see that the actor or actress is acting. You want it to be real. You want to believe it.
And that’s, it’s, it’s quite.. that’s a difficult thing to do, but you’re doing it right. It is. I think when it comes to doing our videos, things, Jason is excellent on camera because he has such contempt for it. So there’s no erm he’s not cheesy or anything like that. He wants to get it done.
What you see is what you get with him. He’s got no patience for any nonsense. It’s like, let’s get it done now. Let’s do it.
Exactly. So good. Exactly. When it comes to some of like the marketing material, I try to just, some stuff, videos, I try to have an idea beforehand, but I like the idea also of much more the kind of run and gun. It can create arguments at times for Jason and I, cause I’m not as good at getting certain settings right, or getting the audio always set perfect. And I tend to figure it out later and make it work with what I got instead of being really planned out, which he is better at that. I can definitely see that. Oh, I just lost my train of thought of what I was going to say with that. Sure. I wonder where I was gonna go all of a sudden.
If it’s gone, it’s gone. So you’re on Facebook. You have your own website. What else? Yep, we’ve got Facebook, of course, our website latavolamarche.com
We have a YouTube channel for a mix of our style, edited videos and live videos from cooking classes to just doing things down in the garden. Like little updates of what’s going on down there. I love Instagram sharing the photos and little quick stories on that. And we have a podcast as well. Podcasts from Italy is where you probably get the truest taste of Jason and I, and yeah, because we do it having coffee in the morning, we sit at the kitchen table or somewhere around here and just kind of share stories, tell the good, the bad, the ugly, the nitty gritty. You’re working with, you know, with your husband everyday
and I met Elliot at work and we do our work overlaps in a sense, and that’s amazing that we can work together, but I know that that’s not always possible. You have to have personalities that gel. So how do you guys keep the marriage, you know, everything fresh and, and be such good business partners?
It takes patience and a sense of humour. To know when to let it lie or let it roll. He’s very sharp. He’s very erm his timing is spot on. There’s a regiment to it, yes. Very good, exactly. Yes. And he’s got an incredible sense of pride. So I’ve had to learn to, and I’m a, like I said, a little more loosey goosey at times. Creative! Spontaneous! Yes! So I’ve had to learn to understand when to not take it personal because it’s gotta be something that can last and that you can find this balance. And also at the same time, not only doing things are unconquerable, but understanding each other’s strengths, I’ve always said we don’t have to be the best at the same thing. I can’t cook, he can’t reply to an email.
To anyone else who has a crazy idea of completely changing their lives and starting a business in a foreign country tomorrow, what advice would you give them?
Do it! Why not? Do it!
Do your homework, research it as much as you can, become an expert in the field that you’re getting into, if you’re, especially if you’re not already. But what you’ve said there, that just do it, that is by far the biggest stumbling block. So perhaps it’s like you’ve said, take those little tiny little steps to move towards actually doing it and getting it done. Cause, you know, if people could just overcome their fears that would be fantastic, wouldn’t it? I think that’s what holds so many people back. And this is what causes when people like change their life and do something like what we did. There can be a lot of weird reactions to it. And you know, we kind of joke haters are gonna hate and be prepared that people might respond to this new venture in your life in different ways that you weren’t expecting it.
They’re not always positive, but realize that that can be because maybe it’s more of a reflection of what’s going on with them. Yeah. The fact that you can interpret it, like that is a very healthy thing to do mentally because it’s very, very hard when people resist you, especially those around you, to be able to take that first step, which is the most difficult thing that you will ever do. And it’s, it is thinking about it in a, in a sensible way to say, if someone has a problem with it, it’s normally a problem or insecurity within themselves
It’s not you. Exactly. The more they said you couldn’t do it, the more I thought to hell with this. I’m going to do it anyway.
Did you lose any friends over it?
Um not so much. Well, of course like certain co-workers and stuff weirdly disconnected. Sadly some family members almost felt like we had moved on into different way.
Like in New York they’d come to visit and we were very close. But then when we came out here, there’s not only a nine hour time difference from where I lived, where my family is in Seattle, but some family was incredibly, incredibly supportive and others kind of almost took a step back. And Jason’s grandma, the same one who had no idea what a blog was, she asked us what we were running from, which we thought was the weirdest question. And it was like.. the law? Like, what do you think we’re running from, I don’t know! it’s funny
So what are you running from? Or what are you running towards? You know, the, the, the, the goal, the Olympics, it’s what, it’s, it’s the, it’s the mindset, right. But, you know, I suppose you can’t fault, you know, if someone has experienced certain things and perhaps had bad experiences when taking risks and of course they would be risk averse and they don’t necessarily always mean badly.
Speaker 2 (17:22):
It’s just that from their perspective and what they’ve gone through, it would be a very, you know, what are you running from? What are you, you know, just make your life secure here. You know, put yourself in a good bubble and cushiony and, and that’s not, you know, that’s not always the right thing to do. So it is trying to interpret, you know, why are they saying that it’s and actually look at yourself and ask yourself the questions, you know, what am I doing? What do I want? And a positive edge, you can’t go wrong with a positive edge on life. The positive outlook, can you? I agree. Life is there for the taking. I agree exactly. This is where Jason and I have that balance where I’m a passionate dreamer and he kind of pokes holes in it and tries to balance this out but is more feet on the ground, which you need a little bit of both at times to do something like this.
Ashley, I mean, thank you so much for joining us. And we’ve loved every minute of listening to your inspirational, you know, moving story. And I hope that it does genuinely mobilize people, not just to start their own adventures, but to come and see you at your inn, sit down and have a glass of wine, eat that.. I mean, your food, your food. I just, there are no words to explain how most watering delicious it is. I’m so hungry right now. Just thinking, I know what gets cooked inside that farmhouse and I get hungry.
It’s why I married a chef since I can’t cook this way. I’ll never go hungry. Okay, perfect. So just, just for anyone listening, so where exactly can they find you once more, to learn more about you and come visit you? Absolutely. We’re super social reach out and connect. We’re always happy to chat and you could find us as latavolamarche.com, which is L a T a V O L a M a R C H E. And you can find us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, all at Latavolamarche. You could follow me on Instagram and our photos and kind of behind the scenes pics at Ashley partner and our podcast, which is just podcast from Italy on iTunes, Stitcher, all of the usual suspects. Alright Ash. Thanks so much once again, and we’ll see you very soon. Thank you so much for having me ciao ciao. So that was Ashley from Latavolamarche inn and cooking school in Italy.
I think it’s safe to say that bravery is an absolutely essential component of any business plan as is the ability to get along with others, to have the right mental attitude where, you know, if you have that resistance, you’re just able to stand up to it and interpret it in the correct way versus taking things personally and letting them stop you dead in your tracks. And to really, you know, as she said, go for it. So I hope you enjoy this podcast. And if you want to listen to any of our other podcasts, please visit us on minttwist.com for more information, have a good day. And that completes today’s episode. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. And if you have, do subscribe to get subsequent episodes automatically. In the meantime, if you’d like to find out more about digital marketing, please visit minttwist.com. Thanks so much for joining us and see you again soon.