A taste of Italy in the heart of Dublin
2007-09-20 12:49:48 -
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In the latest instalment of Metro Eireann’s Meet The Boss, SANDY HAZEL speaks to Bettina Rabbitte of Little Italy, a Dublin-based Italian food/wine importer 

Bettina Rabbitte is Ireland born and bred, but with plenty of Italian connections. She manages a family-owned business called Little Italy, which sources and imports Italian food and wine and is situated at 139 North King Street, just off Smithfield Square.

“My grandparents were Italian and came to Ireland in the 1930s,” says Rabbitte. “My grandfather started out making ice-cream at the Pillar Café and Ice-Cream Parlour on O’Connell Street. His daughter married my dad, who is Irish, so I am half-Italian. My parents started this business in the old Smithfield Square, before this premises was established.”

Rabbitte went to school at Holy Faith in Clontarf and finished her education at the Dublin Business School, and admits that studying the theory of business was not quite the same as being in business.

“It [theory] doesn’t exactly prepare you for the real world. The theory and the practical are different. All the time I was at school and in college I would be helping out in the shop. I would be at the till, dealing with customers and working on the deli counter, answering the phone, taking orders. This is great experience.

“After I finished college I started here properly. My sister had been managing it previously. Things really started to pick up during the 1980s and 1990s. During the World Cup in particular there was great interest in all things Italian. People were going to Italy and coming back with an interest in Italian food and wine.”

There is plenty to keep Rabbitte busy: “As soon as we got more organised I moved into the purchasing and accounts which needs attention to detail. While we import directly from Italy and then sell on to hotels, coffee shops, restaurants nationally, we also do retail business from our shop, offering Italian food and wine to the public. There are many other logistics involved. We deliver nationally and have a fleet of between six and eight trucks. It takes a lot of organising between taking delivery and organising times, dates and drivers.”

One of the main perks of the job is the buying trips to Italy, a place that Rabbitte obviously loves. “Yes, I have been twice this year and I will use the time to also catch up on family that is still there - we still have cousins that we will call on. I also love buying and making the decisions on what will be on the shelves. I also enjoy trade shows and getting our name out there.”

The downside at the moment is that there is some more competition in the marketplace: “There is definitely extra competition now that wasn’t there a few years ago,” says Rabbitte. “There are Polish shops and Asian shops and speciality shops everywhere now, but we have decided to stay Italian.” Plans for the future include a possible expansion to Galway.

And what is her expert tip on the best Italian food in town? “I like Italian food too much. Nico’s on Dame Street is one of Dublin’s oldest Italian restaurants and I have recently discovered the new Bar Italia in the IFSC. They do pretty good pizza.”
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