“Would you rather be pushed out of a plane or jump?”
My friend Lorraine Sommerfeld asked me that the other day when we were discussing entrepreneurship. How you answer is as good a definition as any.
Entrepreneurs are an interesting type. They have a different way of seeing the world, often wanting to break new ground and write their own rules. It doesn’t always work, but true entrepreneurs see failures merely as steps on the way to success. Hence Lorraine and her plane. She’s a jumper, as am I.
Jessica Spiteri, proud co-owner since 2008 of one of the most popular and successful restaurants in Mississauga, Mondello Ristorante (who recently actually jumped out of a plane to skydive) lives by a simple mantra: "Treat others as you would like to be treated. “And it’s worked incredibly well for her.
Conceptualized over many years prior, Jessica, along with her business partner Chef Nico Iatomasi, officially opened the restaurant in 2008. This success story does come with its share of hardships, such as going up to three days without guests and standing in front of the restaurant on weekends to try and bring people through the doors. Yes, they made it work somehow, but like many startup businesses, surviving the early, lean days/months/years makes you stronger in the following years.
Realizing they had made a false start and needed to re-sharpen the proverbial knife, they started fresh again in 2011. That in itself is the sign of a great entrepreneur, when you can realize that it won’t always be successful your first time around.
Fresh off earning her commerce degree from the University of Toronto Mississauga campus and landing a full-time position at the renowned global accounting firm Ernst and Young (impressively, three of the “big four” accounting firms she applied to offered her a job), Jessica spent her nights at the restaurantand did double duty for over a year. Of her exhausting year, she says, “You have no idea what you’re capable of until you’re in the actual situation. It’s sink or swim. I surprised myself and it was an experience that I would absolutely not change.”
In November of 2012, Jessica made the challenging decision to resign from Ernst and Young and give everything to her dream of owning a restaurant. Doing both jobs simply wasn’t a sustainable option. When asked why, she confidently and quickly replied, “I was having so much fun at Mondello,” and said that she saw a greater short and long term opportunity to realize her dream.
The 16-20 hour days may scare others away, but Jessica knew it’s what she had to do in the early days to become successful. She lived on-site in the upstairs apartment allowing her to always be accessible for her team, and did a full renovation to remove what she describes laughingly as “pretty rustic” décor.
Her business partner, Chef Nico, studied under a French Master Chef, is well trained in traditional Italian cooking, and combines classic, modern and creative ideas into the menu. With such a talent in the kitchen, it was reassuring knowing that she could focus fully on the guests and know that delicious, fresh food would always come out to them.
Learning to deal with a seasonal business presented its own set of new challenges for her as she had to prepare for leaner times, create realistic projections, and display responsible cash management as well as take care of staff by ensuring they would still receive shifts. In the “sink or swim” mentality, Jessica strategically and successfully made it through the first quarter of 2013. A contributing factor was that she believes in surrounding herself with remarkable staff and creating an atmosphere that retains them. As a result, many of her team has been with her for quite a while with no intention of leaving.
She proudly believes in her staff, their capabilities, and willingness to take direction from her to improve when necessary. They in turn listen and there’s full transparent communication between them. She treats them very well and has full trust in them, citing “you get what you give” as her formula for fostering and maintaining a positive, energetic and motivated team.
Jessica strongly believes that to offer Mondello Ristorante’s signature “genuine hospitality,” it’s all about the total and consistent experience, whether you’re a first-time or hundredth-time guest. Her top-tier, well trained staff ensures this, even when she’s looking in from afar. She especially likes hearing the veteran staff members provide ongoing training to the newer ones. It’s not easy for many entrepreneurs to loosen the proverbial reigns but it’s something Jessica is happy that she did as it offers further reassurance of how solid her team is.
Lately, she’s been doing an increasing amount of “looking in” as opposed to “being in.” She’d earned her CPA designation in 2010 and after spending over five years solidly immersed in building and maintaining the success and popularity of Mondello, Jessica chose to return to the accounting world via The MBS Financial Group. It offered her flexibility to still enjoy Mondello and enabled her to ease back into the accounting world. She says, “If you’re away from any skill for too long, you miss it and I wanted to rejuvenate that part of my life.” It took a few months to find her groove and the first few days were confidence bruising. Showing resilience, Jessica was diligent in her efforts and now spends close to 30 hours a week there. It wasn’t easy initially balancing her schedule but she’s found a way to make it work.
She’s learned to make time for herself and enjoy life to the fullest. She’s gotten back into riding motorcycles, recently buying a new one this summer (the first place she rode it to was St. Joseph’s church), taking a couple of trips abroad, and spending more time with her nephews, Tristan and Ethan Vince, along with the rest of her family. She firmly says, “Never put money and success over the needs of your family or time spent with your family.”
Jessica also sits on the Board of Directors for the Streetsville BIA to keep informed on what's going on in her community and most importantly, she’s blessed to have had family, friends and mentors along the entire journey always offering support and inspiration.
She’s humble about the success of Mondello, chalking it up to “having a good reputation, people saying they enjoy coming here and it ultimately makes it worth it for us to do what we do.”
Her advice to others? It’s simply “no risk, no reward,” and “work hard, play hard.”
Living on the edge may be good for Aerosmith, but for the ambitious, driven and modern entrepreneur Jessica, taking that jump on her own terms may have been the best decision she’s ever made.