First BikeCafé in Sicily
Supported by Impact Hub Siracusa
It is tuesday afternoon and I walk through the small streets of Ortigia, to pick up Chiara and Alfonso at the triangle shaped Piazza Mergulensi, where they opend their Bikecafé some months ago. It is a quiet afternoon, that is why we decided to meet today. Since their business is in the starting phase, they are used to work day and night usually.
For today, they proposed to bring me to a place which has a very special meaning for them. We walk along the water at the gulf side of Ortigia and I’m curious:
Why is this place so important for you?
“It is the story of our foundation. It was the second of january 2014, one and a half years ago”, Chiara explains smiling “We went here along this seaside for a walk at the sunset. Hand in hand, very romantic. There we saw a sign at one of those houses at the seaside: “For sell”, that was the moment when the idea of doing something around here came to our minds for the first time. We wanted a place that makes us happy, and here we found it.
The initial idea was to find a place with a lot of rooms to create something like a BnB, dedicated to cycle tourism, as we are passionate about bicycles. This first idea changed a bit until today, but it was born and raised here.”
We pass the house they desired. It is located at the very end of the promenade, close to the faculty of architecture. From here you have a beautiful view over the gulf and to the mountains laying behind.
Before coming to Siracusa, they both used to live and work in Milan. Chiara in communications and Alfonso as a graphic designer for advertising. “We decided to change our profession because we were tired of the things we were doing before. We wanted to change our life and do something in a new place, which is less business oriented as Milan”, Chiara explains, while we are searching for a place to sit in the sha-dow. It is an incredibly hot day.
“We were searching for a place with a different lifestyle, where we can give a signal to the next generations, for the community and the territory. And here we found it. It is a place where there is still a lot missing, that opens up opportunities.” “And a business like a bikecafé is a positive sign. We can proudly say that we are doing something good for this city and the community”, Alfonso adds. “Now we run and develop the first bikecafé in Sicily.”
How did you choose Siracusa as the place where you start to run your business?
“Well, there are several reasons”, Alfonso says “first of all it is my city, I am from Siracusa. After living for some years in Milan, I rediscovered this town for me. I came back for holidays from time to time and I realized that it is a beautiful place: located at the sea, with a very relaxed lifestyle. Quiet, not very frenetic. This was, what I was missing in my life in Milan and something I knew I wanted to get back again at a certain time. Another reason for the choice of Siracusa was that this city is a bit like a white canvas, a territory that is still very unexploited. So if your activity is well planed and structured you have good chances to be successful, because there are not many competitors around.”
“We offer healthy, organic and local food, from morning till evening all day. Plus, we rent bikes and we have tools for repairing your own bike for free. We also give information to people that want to ride with the bike, like special itineraries. And once per week we offer a common bike tour.”
Is this your mission, to give people an understanding of those values?
“Yes, we try to communicate this by living it. From the moment we buy goods for the café (we go there by bike) and still when we throw them away. Moreover, we always explain to our clients where the food comes from and what is our mission here.” Chiara says and Alfonso adds, “Until now there are just few people that are really sensitive for sustainability issues, like sustainable mobility or the attention about food and trash.
For the café and our business in general we realized that, in Siracusa and maybe in whole Sicily, there is still very little awareness for the fact that, what we do today will have impact on our future. There is not yet a culture of this mindfullness. Thus, people do not care and take responibility for their action. The genral attention for things like waste seperation, sustainable mobility or the attention on what we eat is really rare. We hope to empower this consciousness through our activities.”
Chiara stops talking, because she just spotted two passing bikes: “Oh look, those are our bikes!”, she says and smiles.
“The biggest motor is our will to change things. Try to leave a mark and give a positive and educational signal. It is a stimulus. We want to do good in general as we are a benefit corporation, an enterprise whose value is to generate social impact. It is not really about money and incomes, but how we can contribute at a local level.”
Before opening the bikecafé you were working very close with Impact Hub. What happend there?
“Our first contact with Impact Hub was in Milan. We attended a one-day training for start-ups. There we found a flyer which showed all Impact Hubs over the world. I saw that there was also one in Siracusa and was really surprised because I had never expected an Impact Hub to be there! So, when we decided to start our business in Siracusa, we contacted them and immediately organized a Business Clinic consultancy there. Thanks to the Business Clinic, we were able to focus more on the weakspots of our business strategy and emerged some points we never really considered. It was an important process for us and the whole team of Impact Hub Siracusa was very kind and helpful.”
“It is very precious for innovators in the city. It represents a window to the world for Siracusa. Impact Hub opens up oportunities which would stay hidden without. Their mission is really outstanding. The Hub and the people frequenting it want to have impact on the territory. They want to create collaborations and synergies. There is a will to make things work, there is enthusiasm, there is positivity. Breathing those emotions gives us a lot of power and courage. To find supportive people in a community like the Hub helps a lot.”
What can a Digital Nomad expect from this place?
“I think Siracusa is the perfect place for Digital Nomads, an ideal environment: The climate is nice, it’s less expensive compared to other cities and there is no stress. In addition you can eat really good and there is the sea and the mountains as well.” Chiara summarizes.
“Especially for a person that is usually very stressed it is a good place to work. Working here means having a good balance between several stimulations and being able to calm down and get into a good working mode at the same time.”
What could a workday in Siracusa look like?
“This is not a big city. It takes just a few steps from the office to the sea. After waking up you can have a first bath, go to work, have a lunchbreak at the sea and then go back to office. For the evening there are a lot of nice spots to go out for food. Everything is very close and intimate, very protected. You don’t have any external disturbing factors like in a huge city. This enables you to focus on your work. Good food and low costs for living, compared to other places like this.”
“In the end it is a bit like in a big family with this small town. After some time you will know everyone. You take one street, take a little break outside and you can be sure to meet someone. You never have to feel alone there are always people around. This might sound like peanuts but in fact, if you don’t have it you’ll miss it. Getting in contact with real people, with friends, just meeting them on the street. That was something I really missed in Milan.” Alfonso explains.
We walk back to their café, where they let me taste their brand new “Green Juice” – made out of green apple, cucumber, lemon and ginger – which just made it into their assortment. More and more clients are crowding the place because it is aperitivo time. Most of them are drinking “Semedorato”, a sicilian beer, while Chiara flits from table to table, serving small glasses with couscous snacks and explaining with a gentle smile how it is made. Alfonso advises a french couple who is interested in renting bikes and invites them for the weekly common bike tour, offered every thursday night. “We start with an aperitivo here at the café and invite different musicians to play at the piazza. Around ten, when it’s dark, we take our bikes and ride all together to nice places around Ortigia. Sometimes we take a bath or play music together. Everyone is invited to join.”
What is your vision for Siracusa in three years?
“I have the dream that in three years all the people of Ortigia will use the bike.” Alfonso laughes.
“Yes”, Chiara adds, “I would really love if the municipality of Siracusa would start to make more efforts to reduce the amount of cars in the historic centre; this is really an important step for this city. Also in terms of tourism it should be a place where you can have a nice walk.
I really hope that the situation will get better. People here are not aware, and often the municipality is struggling to create a different framework in which things could really change. For example, here in Siracusa we have the system of waste seperation, but there are really few spots for throwing the garbage, so people do not do it. Trying to fix this problem would be a great step in the right direction. The municipality should support our ideas and efforts in order to make them not just stay citizien’s ideas, but a reflection of a municipality that strongly believes in those ideas.”
Thank you Alfonso and Chiara!