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For the love of pasta

Francesca Tenze and Fannar Freyr Hannesson prove that when two people complement each other - and when inspiration strikes - the food scene in Copenhagen can be all the richer for it.

Photographs: Francesca Tenze

Text: Michaela Medveďová

When Harry met Sally, it became a cult rom-com classic.

When Francesca met Fannar, it started a beautiful relationship - and more.

Inspired by a weekend getaway in Bologna, the two internationals decided to bring the tradition of fresh pasta shops to Denmark - and level up their partnership.

Denmark without deadline

Francesca moved to Denmark from Italy almost five years ago. Like many other Italians, she also finished her bachelor's in her home country and decided to move abroad for a master's degree. "To be honest, I didn't know much about Denmark. A friend who was already living here told me: Come here, you will not regret it. And I haven't regretted it."

Moving to Denmark wasn't her first experience living abroad - she worked in the UK as a volunteer in a charity shop. But Denmark was the first experience without a deadline. "I knew I would stay for at least two years. But then it was open roads." University made relocating to a brand-new country pretty easy. "It's a privileged position because the university is a little bubble where you mostly meet internationals. It's easy to get along with them because we are in the same situation. It's a little less easy to get to the locals," laughs Francesca.

Copenhagen, where she moved, made a good impression on her - although she is used to a much bigger city vibe as she comes from Milan. "A lot is going on - a lot of activities and traffic. Here, it was possible to get to know the whole city at once." By now, she feels like she knows Copenhagen better than Milan. She loves how structured everything is and how it works so well. "What also surprised me positively is how much safer I felt. I could come home at night and feel safe, which I could unfortunately never do back home."

Of course, she misses Italy - friends and family. "You leave a part of your life there. But I also miss the mountains - and I don't even come from a place with mountains! But here, in a very flat country, I just feel the need for them."

But even though she would still consider experiencing a different country, Denmark feels like home now.

A cross-Nordic move

A big part of making her feel that way is definitely the little family she built here with her boyfriend, Fannar.

Originally from Iceland, he moved to Denmark about ten years ago. Unlike Fra, as he calls his girlfriend, his entire family moved too. "I was finishing high school and already considering studying at a university in Copenhagen. My parents saw an opportunity for my siblings to get a better education, quality of life, or job opportunities. Their push from them wanting to go to Denmark also convinced me to move."

In this case, he was fortunate to move abroad with his family - but he still misses his friends and Iceland. He misses nature, frost, mountains - and seeing glaciers outside of his windows and the Northern Lights, too. "Iceland is a very small place, so you feel very safe. When you go around, you bump into people that you know. It has a small community vibe. There's also a lot of freedom that comes with growing up in such a small place with loads of outdoor activities. Obviously, the weather is really harsh, but it's not something you think about a lot when you're growing up."

Denmark is quite similar to Iceland. "In terms of communication style, we are also straightforward and direct. Because we do share similarities, in some ways, it was quite easy to move." But since Iceland is so small, getting involved in different activities or groups is relatively easy. In Denmark, there's a lot to do and experience and many people to meet - but you must go out and find them. "That's not what I was used to. So it was a little difficult to figure out: What can I do? Who do I talk to? How do I build my circle in Denmark?"

Starting out at the university eased him into it. It put him into a bubble with like-minded people, newcomers like him, and he was able to branch out from there.

And the university is also where he met Francesca.

Taking the leap

In fact, they already met during the introduction days of their programme.

"We were playing these typical social games. We were in the circle and were supposed to associate our names with an animal that starts with the same letter. Fannar went first, and he got the animal I wanted to say - fish. I guess it helped me remember his name because it's one I've never heard before, very Icelandic. So we started talking from there, and pretty much started dating immediately," remembers Francesca.

When asked about their cultural differences potentially getting in the way of their dating, Francesca nods eagerly. "Yeah, I was waiting for an invite for a date because that's how it is in Italy. It's, unfortunately, a little too macho. It's not like that in the Nordics. So when the invitation didn't come, I asked Fannar out."

Fannar laughs and agrees that this is spot on. "In Iceland, we don't have such a strong dating culture. So it takes a long time - maybe you bump into each other in social situations and eventually go out on a date. Thankfully, Francesca took the step for both of us."

They continue to learn from each other in the relationship. Francesca thinks she got into a Nordic way of thinking much more. And Fannar? "Quite immediately, I noticed that Italians openly communicate their feelings and wear their heart on their sleeve. On the Nordic side, it takes longer to open up. So I've adapted more to the southern art of sharing."

"They received a warm welcome from their local community - and have been busier than expected in the first two months - they already have returning customers."

A fresh idea

They both studied International Marketing and Management at CBS. This opened the door to careers in big companies - Francesca went into the pharmaceutical industry, and Fannar worked at Novo Nordisk. They both enjoyed their workplaces. "It's an exciting experience to be a part of world-leading companies because their products have an impact all over. You also get to work with people from different backgrounds, with different stories, all incredibly talented and skilled people. You learn a lot just being around them," Fannar explains what he enjoyed about his career.

Ultimately quitting to start La Fresca was not without fear. "To be fair, we've been trained all our lives to go into a corporate job direction. If you study business, that's what most people do. So what we're doing here - being the owners of our activity and the physical job that comes with it - it's definitely something we're not used to," says Francesca. Nevertheless, deciding to simply 'go for it' took two years. The leap of faith was the most challenging part for Fannar. "You're used to a certain way of comfort when you have a corporate job. So jumping into something completely unknown is quite scary. But I think we would have regretted not doing it because we worked on it for such a long time and were so interested in the idea."

The idea of starting a fresh pasta business came from their weekend trip to Bologna just before the pandemic started. Francesca explains that there's simply pasta everywhere in the city. "Wherever you turn, somebody's eating or making pasta, or, to be honest, thinking about pasta. So it was a very gastronomic tour. Apart from eating, we took part in a class where we learned how to make homemade pasta." They immersed themselves so much in the feeling and the culture that when they came home, they realized that the products you can get in Bologna are something you can't find in Copenhagen. As the city has a very good food landscape, the couple thought that opening a concept shop that exists in Italy would be an excellent alternative to the pasta you can buy in the supermarkets - something genuine, something tangible that people can still enjoy at home.

They started to research the idea and discover more about how they could bring the concept to life. And while it's fun to think about an exciting idea, finding all the necessary information that supports it and helps make the idea into reality was a challenge for the couple. "We tried to look for help from incubators and so on, but quite interestingly, we found out that, at the moment, the startup world is only focused on tech," explains Francesca. But they also needed to know the logistics of finding a place and securing the correct permits. Luckily, the pair also connected with people in the same industry. "We visited them and got to ask them all the questions we needed to get an understanding, which we really appreciated. But it was a long and difficult process to bring the shop from concept to reality," says Fannar.

But they did - and La Fresca opened its doors two months ago.

Make the pasta, sell the pasta

Francesca laughs and says that operating a pasta shop is simple - you make the pasta and then sell it.

But of course, it's more complicated than that.

"You make pasta out of simple ingredients, and yet, you must work it in a certain way to make it as it should be. And we're not making just a few hundred grams," she says. "It's thinking about the recipes, planning for the week, understanding what people like."

They kick off their day with a morning of production. They divide the pasta prep and spend the morning making the dough, fillings, and sauces. "And when we open at 12:00, I go to the front of the store, and Francesca stays in the back to continue working on pasta. Then, once there is time in between, we're dealing with suppliers and accounting. So it's a pretty busy schedule," Fannar described their days.

They use traditional flavours for their product - and keep their recipes secret, of course. But there is also an element of experimenting. That keeps the job interesting; they can try whatever they want as long as the product comes out good for the customers. "It took some trial and error to get to the correct final product we thought we could sell. However, many of our friends became extremely helpful in that testing period and were happy to taste test," laughs Fannar.

Of course, they base their products on customer feedback, too. They received a warm welcome from their local community - and have been busier than expected in the first two months - they already have returning customers. Some of them return to the store just to tell them they liked the pasta. "This makes it the best job. It's just heartwarming to feel this immediate reaction," says Francesca.

Full speed ahead

People often ask worriedly if they can work as a couple and business partners. Francesca shakes her head. "People tell me: Oh, I could never do it with my partner. Maybe it's because we've worked at it for a long time, but we managed to separate business and personal. I won't take it personally if we don't agree on something. Being in a relationship also makes it easier to speak more directly. I wouldn't say things in such a direct way to a colleague, but I can say that to him." This also isn't the first time they've worked together. Fannar mentions that they also worked on uni projects together. "We can work quite well together. We complement each other in many ways."

And the most important thing? They still enjoy each other's company after work.

And that's good because their co-project isn't going anywhere. Their primary focus is to make their shop into a sustainable business. For example, they'd love for La Fresaca to become a go-to when people think of having pasta at home. "That's the long-term vision. We are very much focused on right here and now, and we'll see where it takes us. There's no timeline for stopping. It's just full speed ahead," concludes Fannar.

La Fresca is located on Jernbane Allé 35, Valose.

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