EL&N. All day dining, all day “instagramming”
We met up with Maurizio Raviolo, 56, partner and CEO with Barbara Balistreri of 4 Food, the company managing the development of the famous EL&N café in Italy. It was a pleasant chat at the tea table of the newborn flagship store in Piazza Gae Aulenti, accompanied by a few unforgettable delights. Maurizio told us about himself and the bold challenge launched in the #1 country for food and beverage.
Maurizio Raviolo: I have grown up in the large-scale retail trade, then in the so-called ho.re.ca. – hotellerie-restaurant-café as a project manager of Ca'Puccino, in Italy and London, and then, in 2016, bringing Wagamama's Asian cuisine to Italy with the Percassi family.
The Londoner EL&N opened also in Paris at the Galeries Lafayette but immediately eyed up Italy as a launchpad, since it knew that if something works here, it’ll work worldwide. They contacted us and we immediately perceived the enormous potential of the most instagrammed café on the planet, with its healthy menu and high-quality ingredients for every moment of the day. We thus opened the first store in Milan, in Piazza Liberty, which was an instant success, and – in December 2022 – we opened another café in Piazza Gae Aulenti.
P.N.: Did you already know EL&N before they contacted you?
M.R.: We often travel to London, whose food business – despite the slowdown caused by the pandemic and Brexit – is always 20 years ahead of the rest of the world in terms of restaurants, and also a point of reference for the café sector (Caffè Nero, Starbucks). The new trend is a return to small cafés with specialty coffees and a few shops, a bit like it was before the boom of big brands, which is only occurring in Italy today. EL&N is a young company, and from the moment it was born – in 2017 – we knew it could work in our country with its highly “social” approach.
P.N.: Cafés have a long tradition in our country, starting with the “caffè italiani” of the early 1900s that are still running in Milan and Turin. How does EL&N see them? Is it an evolution or simply “something else”?
M.R.: In terms of menu and brand recognition, EL&N is seen as a bakery/patisserie and café offering sweet and savory delights for every time of the day in a “special” location. Its most suitable definition is “all-day dining”. The touch of its inventor, the London-based fashion blogger Alessandra Miller, may be seen in the peculiar fittings and the mood and colours of its rooms, designed as the perfect backdrops to take selfies and pictures. As well as the interior design, the brand identity is expressed by its healthy and high-quality menu, 90% of which corresponds to the original, with its tasty and wholesome non-alcoholic drinks and its certified coffees. We do not draw a comparison with traditional cafés because people also come here for the experience offered by the location. The average time spent at our cafés – up to 1 hour – goes to prove this.
P.N.: Are the delights I can enjoy in Milan the same as the menu in Doha or are there cultural variations for each country?
M.R.: The menu is usually the same, other than the due changes to adjust it to local traditions and religions. We also have a few vegetarian options and a gluten-free cake, while we are still working on our vegan choices to guarantee that they are top-notch.
P.N.: What are your bestsellers out of the patisserie, café, food, and beverage specialties at the various times of the day?
M.R.: At breakfast, the favourite is cappuccino – or our special “lattes” – with our chocolate or pistachio-glazed croissants. For those choosing the international option, there is the timeless Eggs Benedict. At lunch, our customers love burgers and club sandwiches. In the afternoon the winners are, of course, cakes, like the beetroot-based “red velvet” or the “caramel financier”, combined with mocktails such as the alcohol-free mojito, also with a passion fruit base or with ingredients that customers can mix at their own at the table, changing the drink’s colours (all completely natural). In the evening, we still serve our lunch menu, usually with the addition of dessert.
P.N.: Your most distinctive element is your interior design, with the floral wallpaper and the dominant pink colour making the rooms resemble party favours and lending themselves to be immortalized. Do your clients know they are in a living IG hotspot?
M.R.: In general, people who walk in know us already. Today, for instance, a group of girls dressed in pink walked into our Piazza Gae Aulenti café purposely to take pictures! Everything we have deserves a “click”, including our dishes, because they are well-garnished and presented. Moreover, all of our shops have pre-set IG points: in Piazza Liberty, there is a swing, and in Piazza Gae Aulenti there is a structure resembling Juliet’s balcony.
P.N.: Do you have a “standard” customer based on the neighbourhood or does it change? What are the most popular times of the day?
M.R.: We have customers of every age, kind, and ethnicity. In Piazza Liberty, our strong point is sit-down breakfast for tourists, whilst our customers in Piazza Gae Aulenti are more Milanese and go for quick meals at the counter, which is why we made this element bigger. We also have a grab-and-go option, which is quite appreciated by workers at Portanuova. On Saturdays and Sundays, there is a constant queue in front of our Piazza Liberty café all day long, even when it rains. The Piazza Gae Aulenti shop is just getting started, but it looks promising.
P.N.: Thanks to its connection with nature, Portanuova is a hotbed of outdoor events of any kind in the spring and summer. It is also an open-air stage that is photographed and shared on social networks by thousands of people every day. Do you plan to embrace this spirit with a few outdoor initiatives of your own?
M.R.: We will soon add a terrace, and we will indeed contribute to a few events in the square in combination with the ones offered by the city.
P.N.: What is EL&N’s approach to sustainability?
M.R.: We do our best to reduce our carbon footprint with our paper straws and recycled packaging, as well as our energy-efficient lights and our faux-leather furniture.
P.N.: What do EL&N and Portanuova have in common?
M.R.: Other than sustainability, they are definitely among the most photographed and instagrammed locations in Milan!