Meet Giovanna & Jonathan Capitanini

Get to know Giovanna & Jonathan, new members of EFBC!

Italian Village Restaurants
Founded: 1927
Location: Chicago, IL

Tell us a little about yourselves:

(Giovanna) Jonathan and I have started the process of transitioning the business from our mother to us. We are the fourth generation to run the business. In the day-to-day, I handle the marketing side of things. I am responsible for any of the ads, social media, influencers, PR, signage, website, menus, etc.; all that good stuff. In January of last year, we refreshed The Village brand, so I spent a lot of time on that project and implementing it across channels. The next big project I am working on is our newest concept, Bar Sotto, an Italian take on a Chicago dive bar.

(Jonathan) I more recently joined the business and come from a background in management consulting, and I also worked with another restaurant brand prior. We call my role the ‘Head Dishwasher,’ which has been passed down through the generations; but it is essentially the operations role. I focus on operations, finance, HR, and the opening of our newest concept with Giovanna.

I studied economics in college, which was a pretty generalist degree, and a good way to figure out what I wanted to do. From a young age, both of us were told not to go into the restaurant business. Our family wanted us to go work in Corporate America because they knew how hard the restaurant industry could be. But I think, as with many things, the more your parents tell you not to do something, the more drawn to it you are. Still, we both pursued alternative career paths after college, which was how Giovanna got into marketing and I got into consulting.

But once the pandemic hit, it was an incredibly hard time for the restaurant industry, so I began to focus more on the family business knowing the skillsets I had built in consulting would be particularly valuable in this time. Slowly, as the business started to stabilize, we realized that our mom was nearing retirement age and started looking at our succession plan. At that point, we realized our different strengths and what we both brought to the table and the differences we have that both add value to the business.

We also identified that, aside from the first generation, previous generations were missing prior work experience in different restaurants. We thought our business was stuck in the ‘old ways’ a little too much and did not have enough outside perspective, so I found an opportunity to work for another restaurant group, Boqueria Restaurants, they have a location in Chicago, but are based on the East Coast. I was able to run through their manager-in-training (MIT) program, where you rotate through each role in the business, from back of house to front of house, and then the corporate team where I worked on strategic initiatives across all units. Finally, I came back home, just over a year ago, to start to apply some of those learnings.

(Giovanna) So Jonathan took a more direct route, in learning the ins-and-outs of the restaurant industry while I took more of a roundabout route. I graduated college with a marketing degree, focused on digital media. I had a few internships with marketing firms in Chicago, and one global firm before ending up at Modern Luxury in their digital media department. I was part of a 5-person digital team – we were doing everything from digital ads, SEO tracking, website management, everything you can think of for the digital brand. After about 3 or 4 years there, there was an opening at the restaurant for a person doing what I was doing and so I started working closely with our PR firm. And then when COVID hit, I started taking over more of the website maintenance and more of the social media on my own as we cut costs and let go of the outsourced marketing/PR partner.

Tell us how you work with each other, especially given the nuances and unique aspects of being in business with your family members.

(Jonathan) It’s definitely something we are working on and will continue to work on as we move forward. As a wise person once told us, in family business, “your business is in your family and your family is in your business.” It’s interesting to navigate the different hats and relationships we have with each other, from siblings, to colleagues, to manager, etc., and sometimes it can be challenging expressing thoughts or concerns when you haven’t clarified which hat you’re speaking from at that time. If you are trying to give feedback but they are approaching the situation like a family member the response is totally different than, for example, if you are coming to the person as a colleague. We have made a lot of progress in the past year, and I am proud of how far we have come and looking forward to what we can accomplish in the future. Our ability to collaborate and come together has proven successful in elevating us to further heights and a big step for us was joining EFBC. We were looking to find mentorship beyond the family, because sometimes when you are seeking shared experiences outside of your family others just don’t understand the different dynamics. We are excited to build community from a broader audience and hear perspectives on other people’s challenges with communication and problem solving.

(Giovanna) We often get asked about how working with family is, and we regularly joke that we haven’t killed each other yet. But aside from that, Jonathan and I have a real passion for our business. We grew up in this business, it’s in our blood. And at the end of the day, we have the best interest of the restaurant and our employees at heart and at the end of the day we are family. To us, that’s the most important thing. That way, when we approach each other, we have a basis of understanding of where both of us are coming from and it helps us understand each other a little better. We joined the EFBC to be able to gain an outside perspective, especially because most friends and other colleagues do not have the experience of what it’s like working with your family.

How did you first hear about EFBC?

(Both) Our uncle, Al Capitanini.

(Jonathan) When you are the fourth generation in a family business, you understand that no matter what the previous generation does to ‘solve’ certain problems, you run into the same sorts of family problems, like communication among family members and figuring out a way to get support from people who know what you’re going through and so he [Al] had an understating of the EFBC when he was involved with the business, found it helpful, and recommended it as an option for us as we start to make that transition into ownership and leadership roles.

What made you want to finally join EFBC and what are you hoping to gain from your membership?

(Jonathan) I knew, at the time, we weren’t doing our best in terms of communicating and working together, and we were struggling to find the proper ways to collaborate. So it became obvious that we each needed some outside perspective on things to alleviate having to include other family members, like our mom having to be the referee, which ultimately wasn’t getting us anywhere as our mom just wants us both happy and getting along. Great in family, but that approach doesn’t really help the business. We needed to be able to make some tough decisions and have agreement and commitment to those decisions, which is what pushed me to explore EFBC more.

(Giovanna) In general, we were kind of looking for someone, a third party, just to give us an outside perspective on things. When you are close with your family and are in business together, everyone you talk to about it is so inclined to give their own opinions on every matter and you end up with a lot of advice from people, but they haven’t necessarily worked in the day-to-day nor do they have an understanding of how the business operates. I think, additionally, the EFBC community is so great because there are so many different types of businesses, multiple generations, and perspectives that will be helpful for us to learn from.

(Jonathan) Just to drive home Giovanna’s point on community, at the end of the summer, we attended the Summer Social at Avli, and it truly felt like folks went out of their way to talk to us and make us feel comfortable and included. As we were making our decision on whether to join, so many shared their own experiences from the value they get out of EFBC, which really “sealed the deal” for us.

(Giovanna) Everyone was really welcoming and excited to talk about EFBC and how it has improved their lives, their businesses, and so many other aspects – that was really the cherry on top!

Join us in welcoming Giovanna & Jonathan to the EFBC community.