Name: Stefan Mintchef
Company: Coppolla & Di Stefano Restaurants
Originally from Tuscany, Italy and with over 35 years of experience in the Hotel and F&B industry, Stefan Mintchef moved to Horizon Hills, Iskandar Puteri in Johor, Malaysia 5 years years ago to open up his first food business, Coppola Family Pizzeria & Wine Bar. Over the years, his business grew and Stefan decided to open more doors to bring in the flavours of the world to this region. Now, with four restaurants up and running (Coppola, Sofia, Havana, Mexico and Istanbul on the way), he envisions to develop the area to be a destination for ethnic cuisines from around the world and captivate people through his love for authentic food.
Tell us more about Coppola and what are its unique selling points?
Coppola is a restaurant that has been inspired by my Italian roots and my love for authentic Italian food. We have a trained and experienced team that prepares fresh handmade dishes and a huge assortment of house wines (over 40 of them in fact). Besides that, the uniqueness of Coppola and my other restaurants here is that a patron can order from the four (4) different menus of my other restaurants while dining in one outlet.
What are among the menu items served?
Here at Coppola, being an Italian restaurant, we mainly serve authentic Italian cuisine such as pastas and platters, steaks and wines, as well as the Italian favourite, pizza! Speaking about pizzas and wine, we have imported a huge wood-fire pizza oven all the way from Italy specially built by the Ambrogi Brothers who have built these amazing ovens since the Middle Ages, whereas a wine grocer, which I also run, also backs the business.
What is the most important element in running a restaurant?
To me, the most important element in running a restaurant is to believe in what you are doing and that nothing can stop you. Make sure that your concept makes sense and you have a proper plan. One must also prepare a strong financial plan to make sure that the business can be sustained because we all know that when you’re running a food business; one will always start at a loss first.
Why did you decide to open all your businesses in the same area?
I realised that I needed to create some excitement in this area. After being such a quiet place for some time, people started coming in here more to experience Horizon Hills and what it has to offer as a destination. The Italians have a saying, “One bird cannot bring the spring”, in which relates back to why I have decided to open up more than one restaurant, with each having its own unique concept, to bring “spring” to this area.
How do you manage expectations from patrons while maintaining standards of the premise?
Firstly, I feel that it is important for me to maintain a personal touch with my patrons. I make an effort to greet and host every guest that comes through the doors of my restaurants, even if it means to take their orders or to serve them. That is also the reason why my restaurants are all in the same vicinity.
How do you stay above the competition?
There is competition everywhere, if not within the same area, probably in the next destination. However, the way I keep up the game is to offer things that others cannot. For example, a more personalised service, or the unique cross-restaurant dining experience. Moreover, our wine selection itself is much more diverse compared to other dining options. To tell you the truth, I do not mind competition. In fact, I welcome and celebrate them as they will in turn bring in customers to the area and as a destination, benefit as a whole.
What is your take on fusion food?
I call it “confusion food” (laughs)! I believe in pure and authentic food like the one our mothers use to make, passed from generation to generation. I feel that fusion food is a trend whereas original recipes are forever. The ethnic food of each region in the world has a story to tell. Therefore, why do we want to try to experiment and alter an age-old recipe when it has been perfected for centuries prior?
Tell us more about your future plans
Now, besides focusing on the current outlets, I am also planning to develop some of the land that I have back in Tuscany, Italy into a vineyard. This will be my long distance business though my focus will still be back here in Johor. The vineyard could potentially be a producer of wine for Asia. As for local plans, I feel that Johor is the future. There are plenty of opportunities here and I feel that businesses in Johor have only one direction, which is up.
What do you do in your free time?
I like to experience something new every day like travelling around to try new food and see new places. I also play badminton and enjoy eating out. Besides that, a good book and a good movie never seem to let me down.