National Hospitality Day: 'Per Tutti means everyone is welcome'
- Credit: Jovan and Olga Sipcenoka of Per Tutti on Holywell Hill.
“If you don’t take risks, you don’t drink Champagne, right?” So says Olga Sipcenoka, co-owner of the Italian restaurant Per Tutti on Holywell Hill.
And she should know, she and husband Jovan took a huge risk by investing every penny of their savings in the St Albans business, just when they had started their family, in order to follow their dream of establishing their own restaurant.
That was back in February 2016 and since then Per Tutti has become a firm favourite with the people of St Albans, due to its very reasonable prices and excellent Italian fare, which evokes warm memories of sunny holidays. In fact, lemon trees are a recent addition to the interior, inspired by a restaurant garden in Capri that Olga and Jovan loved on a trip a few years ago.
So the Italian experience is now more immersive than ever – which is much needed after 18 months of limited foreign travel for most of us.
Prior to opening their own restaurant, the couple both worked in Italian restaurants: Jovan as a chef of 15 years experience and Olga at front of house. “That is how we met.” She says, “working together for 50 hours a week.”
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After eight years of working together for someone else, Olga left on maternity leave and the journey towards the birth of Per Tutti also began. “We wanted to do our own thing running a family business,” she says, “but it took us years to find the right spot in St Albans that we could afford and that we thought might work for our concept.”
Jovan arrived in St Albans in 2000 and fell in love with the city. “He wouldn’t consider anywhere else for the first restaurant,” says Olga. “And I know why. It’s very vibrant city but at same time it has such a lovely supportive community feel.”
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Almost seven years after opening the St Albans restaurant, the couple now have three beautiful children under the age of nine and have also expanded the business, opening a restaurant in Berkhamsted nearly three years ago now
"It has a similar feel to St Albans and we are in a beautiful Grade II listed building there,” says Olga, “It’s perfect for Per Tutti.”
Life is very busy for the couple now. “With three children and two dogs, running two restaurants as well can be a challenge at times!” Olga says. No kidding! And then a pandemic was thrown into the mix too.
“It is important to adapt to anything that this life throws at you.” says Olga. “Covid proved it! But also, being in the restaurant industry with so much competition around, who are all fabulous at what they do, you have to be on top of your game, and able to adapt to all the challenges that life throws at you. And fast. It can be anything from keeping abreast of sustainability issues, to dietary demands such as veganism, or even pivoting the business and doing take-aways.”
Per Tutti means “for all” or “everyone is welcome” and Olga says there is something for everyone. “From a lunch time deal to meeting up with friends in the evening. We have fantastic cocktails to start off your romantic dinner or you can have a special occasion in our private dining room.”
And Olga and Jovan are planning more for the future. A lot of people ask if we are thinking of expanding again. I say ‘never say never!’ There are a few towns in Hertfordshire that I would consider- so I am on a constant look out.”
Busy as they are, this couple are still ambitious and they know their concept works. It has scooped the St Albans Food and Drink Festival Award for Best Restaurant for Everyday Dinning three years in a row now, an achievement of which they are very proud, although there is also some real sadness for Olga: “I wish my parents were alive to be able to share these proud moments with me.”
There are many others around, keen to share in the Per Tutti experience. Olga says the best thing about running a restaurant is the people you meet every day.
“You can’t even call them customers, some of them are really like part of the Per Tutti family. I can’t imagine doing a 9-5 job in front of computer. I love meeting new people. I like to challenge myself, and show people why we are popular. I am also proud to that my team are not only my long standing members of staff but also my true friends.”
Plenty of people to take the risks with them, and plenty to drink the Champagne with them too!
LINGUINE DI MARE
200g San Marzano pelati (whole plum tomatoes)
Quarter large white onion chopped
Black pepper and salt, to taste
50ml extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for cooking
Bunch fresh basil, chopped
500g Dececco pasta linguine
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
28 mussels, shell on
12 tiger prawns, shell on and butterflied (cut open)
16 sliced rings of squid
28 vongole (clams) shelled
8 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
50 ml white wine
Bunch fresh parsley, chopped
To make the tomato sauce, put the tomatoes and onion in a saucepan, season with salt and pepper and simmer on a low heat for 1 hour. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the packet instructions until just al dente.
When ready, pour into a moulin, add the olive oil and work it through the moulin or mash until well combined. Stir in the basil.
Heat a large frying pan, then add a slug of olive oil with the garlic and cook for 1 minute, then add all the fish (mussels, tiger and king prawns, squid and vongole) cherry tomatoes, white wine and half a ladle of the tomato sauce. Cook for a further few minutes (about 8 minutes in total). Season to taste with salt and pepper.
When ready to serve, put on one serving dish to share or divide between 4 dishes and garnish with chopped fresh parsley.