Entrepreneur Interview: with Rosa Talai and Roya Irving, Sorella Sorella

Posted on the 5 November 2018

Entrepreneur Interview: with Rosa Talai and Roya Irving, Sorella Sorella

Tell me about your backgrounds in business?

Roya: We had rather unconventional backgrounds to running a restaurant as we both studied law. I attended Durham University and went into commercial property law with a big Newcastle firm, while Rosa graduated from Newcastle University and joined a large management consultancy company in London.

However, our parents had run a number of food-related businesses and we have always been involved, so it is in the blood!

Although we are both qualified solicitors, Rosa and I had always talked about opening our own restaurant – although it took two to three years to pluck up enough courage to quit our jobs to follow our dream by opening Sorella Sorella in 2012.

We both worked for reputable companies and had successful careers, but somehow it felt we should be elsewhere. In the end, it was about the passion as our hearts were always in the food and hospitality industry.

The advice and support from our parents was invaluable in setting up the restaurant.

We were always involved in the running of their restaurants, but going it alone was completely different, especially as Sorella Sorella is a large establishment and requires a great deal of hard work to run successfully. So, we were fortunate to have the know-how available within the family.

What was the inspiration for your business?

Rosa: We both have a passion for food, in particular Italian food and for Italy itself. We love eating out so knew instinctively the essential ingredients required to run a popular restaurant. We wanted to create somewhere that customers could return to time and again and be assured of the same consistently high levels of quality in terms of food and service.

Tell me how your business has progressed?

Roya: The restaurant used to be a pub called The Rose, Shamrock and Thistle, which dates back to 1880. It is a big building in Sunniside, Gateshead.

We took over the premises in March 2012 and completely renovated it, putting our own ideas into every aspect of the design. The renovation was completed in October 2012 and we opened for business soon after. It sits 115 diners and there is more seating in the lounge. We still have the pub’s original sign on display as a reminder of those early days and its past history.

Since we opened six years ago, we have learnt a lot about the business and, more importantly, our customers.  Whenever we tweak our menus or any aspect of the business, it is done so with the customer firmly in mind.

Sorella Sorella has grown financially year on year and we are forecasting further growth over the coming years. We now employ around 30 members of staff.

What is your proudest moment?

Rosa: On Sunday, October 7, we won the English Italian Award for Best Team in England for our staff and food at a ceremony in Manchester.

It is a national award so we are incredibly proud - as running a restaurant, especially one as large as ours, really does rely on great teamwork. To hear our name called out and to pick up that award was just amazing.

However, we have proud moments all the time, in fact whenever the restaurant is full and has a buzzing atmosphere. It always makes us feel proud because our customers have chosen to dine with us rather than our many competitors.

Is there a particular mistake you have made in business and how did you learn from it?

Roya: Fortunately we have not made any major mistakes. As and when problems arise, we resolve them and always remember our dad’s original advice to learn from it, move on and try not to let it happen again.

What is your unique selling point?

Rosa: We are a family-run restaurant and we treat our staff and customers as though they are part of the family.

Our USP is excellent quality food and service and one of us is always there to welcome our customers and see to their needs. We have a large, regular customer base and our team ensures that every time they dine with us they receive friendly, personal service.

What is the most important part of your business?

Roya: The two most important elements are our customers and staff.  Rosa and I have both worked for major companies and we know how important it is for people to be happy at work and to achieve a good work-life balance. We put both our staff and customers at the heart of everything we do.

Do you live by a certain motto?

Rosa: We don’t have a specific motto, but we always try to remain positive – which means remaining motivated whenever something challenging happens.

What are your future plans?

Roya: When the time is right we would like to open another restaurant. I feel everything we have learned here can be transferred to another venture. We want to continue to grow Sorella Sorella and aim to make every service as busy and efficient as possible.

We both recently joined the Entrepreneurs’ Forum and have attended a number of inspirational events, which is helping us formulate our plans for the future.