Here at Casale San Nicola the beauty reigns, this place talks about Puglia, the white stone,
the secular olive trees. How much has been important the identity ownership to this region to recover these places?
Angelo Tortora: everything starts from the passion, from the desire to recover a part of the territory that was abandoned since centuries. The love for the places and the willingness to bring back to the top the old glories have been so strong that we still don’t suffer the several sacrifices we had to do.
Donato Tortora: initially the ruin of the Casale has been bought as a joke, going on with the restauration, it started to take a shape. At the beginning we wanted to build a private residence, but considering the importance of the investment we asked ourselves if it was the case to keep this good only for us! So, we thought to make it available for the community. The restauration has been long and complex until the transformation of the structure into a hospitality-touristic place.
We started with 11 rooms and the internal court, squared and surrounded by the stone, that here reigns, and it is the center around what the rooms gravitate, the resort. The court was used for the parties, then, since the high number of requests, we tried to realize an external gazebo with an iron structure. We made specific choices to respect the structure, starting from the manufacturing to the material: floors in stone, polishedmarble instead of the shiny one. We have a strong request for other rooms, but it is not possible to increase the volumes, and the spaces neither. Where we stand right now, in the past, there was a small church, dedicated to Saint Nicola, the apsis is clear, there is a XI century confessional.
Angelo Tortora: the Casale is proto-urban, its roots go back to the last quarter of XI century, we are between high and low middle ages. We know this from the few historical sources, mainly indirect. Donato Tortora: in our garden proudly
stands a secular olive tree. It is an attraction. A big old guy who looks quiet at the things that happen. We care a lot about it. It is a sculpture that the nature gave us. There isa portal with an ogival arch that has been later posted into the walls and during the restauration we made it readable.
Angelo Tortora: The Casale gains importance thanks to the small Saint Nicola church. It is deconsecrated, with a romantic-Apulian style, with the apsis with polished segments, it is one of the first Christian settlements.
Donato Tortora: During the renovation, into the naves, in the excavations, we found out millstones, lathes, that we put outside, in the gardens. In the 17th century this complex had been adapted as oil mill. We also did a selection of the personnel in the kitchen and the sommeliers to emphasize the cuisine of the territory. This has been our second step and our success too.
Angelo Tortora: recovering a territory’s good, revaluating the Apulian cuisine, proposing our typical traditions, creating occupation. This is what we have done. Then it is necessary to say that the trend nowadays is positive, there is the exploit of the wedding in Puglia, the most desired place for the wedding among VIPs.
How did you decide to enter in this adventure, having different jobs?
Donato: I was born as student of the kitchen school. My professor of that time, I was 17, told me I was ready to work. In fact I already was chef in a restaurant with a 45 waiters crew. It was 1976. This means I already used to have a strong sense of the organization. Then I’ve been thrown in the world of the road transportation, my father’s job, and, after taking the control of the company, it grew fast. Today we are well known internationally, our first market is abroad. Two years ago we used to have 15 means, now they became 25 and we cannot manage all the requests. It is difficult to find the human resources.
So you had to differentiate the investment.
Let’s say that everything started from the love to this farmhouse. Initially were helped by two Ukrainian guys, who used to work with my uncle in the agricultural sector. They had 3 months of break from their job so they both started to clean up the scrubs, to define the walls, until the moment we understood the complexity
and the beauty of the farmhouse. From 1994 to 2006 only small actions. In 2006 we actually began to talk about restauration. Not without problems: this good is under the landscape restriction. The authority should support the
entrepreneurs who decide to invest on the preexisting structures, doing a good recovery job. Anyway, everyone here has his own activity that keeps managing. Angelo: Yes, I’m in the medical area, coordinator of dental structures, and here at Casale there is the complementarity of the roles. Everyone has his own. We complete each other.
What kind of cuisine do you offer and why is it the added value to this structure?
Donato: We prefer local products, from legumes to vegetables, we try to push the biologic. In our kitchens there are no seasonings, glutamate, additives, everything comes from the raw materials. We don’t use butter but extra- virgin oil, that we use in industrial quantities. We have here 400 olive trees with whom we produce our oil that we use in our kitchens. Km
0. We care about the cultivation, we respect the seasonality of the products. Our cuisine is based primarily on the fish, the fresh product, limiting ourselves to what we can find on the market along the year. This is a philosophy shared by
our executive chef and food&beverage manager Carlo Papagni. A great respect for the tradition in an evolved and contemporary cuisine.
This is one of the few structures in the north of Bari where it is possible to celebrate the
wedding with civil ritual.
Angelo: Yes, we are one of the historical places entitled by the muncipality of Bisceglie to celebrate the civil weddings. We try to take advantage of our potential both for the external and the internal parts. We give the opportunity to celebrate
the ceremony on Sunday too. Our structure is not only used for parties but also conventions, above all in winter, we host companies and organizations used to this kind of events.
Donato: and that’s not all… we try to answer to all the needs and the dreams of our customers. We have a club “1070 Diecisettanta Club & Bar”, where we organize less conventional parties. Weddings with a smaller number of guests,
focused more on having fun than on the traditional Apulian ceremony. A great buffet and a lot of show: live band, cabaret, for example. Maybe you saw going around the territory two trucks, to not lose the bond with the road
transportation. We use them as advertising vehicles. They are two vintage treats, one dated 1952 and the other 1958. I want to specify that we always try to satisfy our clients. The costs of the “real” menus are lower than other restaurants that use to catch the clients showing lower costs off. But then, when the couple goes to actually define the expense forthe lunch or the dinner, the cost grows because everything is considered as an extra.
Considering you have several rooms, diversified according to the number of people, how
many people can you host at full capacity?
Donato: in this period for example, considering the capacity of the two rooms and the small church, we go around 400 guests. 250 in one room, 120-130 in the other one and 30-35 in the church, that we usually use for the civil ritual but also for small events, conventions and private dinner. We have two kitchens on different floors. It is clear that the timing of the
kitchens changes so the plate can arrive at the right temperature to the table. To do so it is necessary to have qualified personnel. We are open 365 days and we pass from 18 permanent employees during the low-profile months to 40-45 from April to October when there are eucharists, weddings and parties in general.
We were talking about hospitality, in Puglia it is a tradition, it is part of our culture and
our history. What does it mean for you the art of the hospitality?
Angelo: Hospitality art is culture! If my knowledge, my belonging to the territory leads me to act with the client as if it is my home, it is clear that the hospitality assumes an almost familiar form, without forgetting the quality and the elegance.
Here people feel home.
Angelo: All the personnel is fun, when you pass that door you enter in a different dimension, like in another epoch. The difference is made by people. You should not think immediately to the gain, to the business, but the satisfaction of the person.
Donato: And above all it is important to keep calm and to respect the willingness of the client, including the most demanding or the one who’s not completely aware of what he wants. It is our job to suggest and to bring the person along this choosing path, trying to interpret and satisfy the requests for any kind of ceremony. We also have a plus that is not always present in
the restaurants. There is the maximum respect by the kitchen crew, the chef and the responsible for people with intolerances, allergies or celiac. For the guest who suffers of these diseases there is not on the table a plate with a different
color, like to stigmatize the diversity! They are all the same in the mise en place.
What do you see beyond?
Angelo: The maximum expression of the Casale has yet to come. Our marketing goal is to make this place be known starting locally and then internationally. We aim to different and higher target of clients, beyond the seasonality of the offer.
Donato e Angelo: The invite is to everyone: “Come to Casale San Nicola, we will be happy to host you!”