Homebaked Grandma’s Kitchen

Jesse Smeal
Jesse Smeal

Jesse and Carol are the owners and founders of Homebaked Grandma’s Kitchen, the only American Brunchery in Rome, located in the idyllic town of Monteverde. I met up with Jesse over the breakfast menu.

How did the idea to start come about?

It was really just to get something that reminded me of home. I attended university here and I lived here for a time so I wanted to offer that homey feel. Homebaked is just like your grandma’s kitchen from the decor to the food, and that’s what I wanted to achieve.

Why did you choose to settle in Italy?

I don’t know. I’m really not sure. I’d been to Amsterdam and other European countries, I’d even lived in London but I really don’t know why I chose Italy.

Really?

Really. I have no idea.

How did you turn it into reality?

Well, I spoke to my wife about it and we put the money together. I’d already envisioned a place with this atmosphere. It was harder than we thought because of all the bureaucracy. In Italy, especially in Rome because of the mafia, it’s really hard to start up. There was also a lot of paperwork to be done. They’d tell us we couldn’t open for business because we had one door or because we had four steps. We were paying a lot of money to people and we didn’t know where the money was going but my wife really fought to make it all a reality. She fought to obtain the health license and all the other documents that were needed. We’d originally intended to open early but we opened a few months later because of the little obstacles. Eventually, we were able to bring Homebaked to life.

Was your wife a chef with a lot of kitchen experience?

Carol Smeal
Carol Smeal

No, she wasn’t. She did know how to cook but she wasn’t a professional chef. She had to take cooking and baking courses. When we went to the States my mother, Bobbi, gave us her recipe book and that’s where we get the recipes from. It’s really just us two. She makes the cakes, and muffins and sweets and I make the bacon and salty foods. She’s sweet, I’m salty.

How do you convince the average italian who eats a croissant and capuccino for breakfast, to start the day America style?

When I started I knew I was taking a huge gamble. I was invading a territory but you know we’ve been fighting the system ever since. Many Italians have the preconceived notion that American food isn’t healthy but you have to convince them that it tastes good and it is fresh, healthy food.

Fresh and healthy is a great factor for them It absolutely is an important factor to Italians…

They are very skeptical about foreign food. I get people asking me if I import my ingredients from the U.S but I tell them no, I get it from the farmer’s market down the street. The ingredients are fresh so they just have to know that it’s good food. Television is really helping a lot though. Years ago, Italians didn’t really know about muffins and brownies and bagels, but now the youth watch American shows and they want to try the food and when they do they love it. We even get elderly Italian ladies, who I never thought would come in, but we get them all the time here.

Italians say it’s hard to start a business here. Is it successful?

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Our accountant says it is because we are able to pay the bills. We have come a long way from where we started but we’re not seeing a lot of profit. To some degree we have come to terms with the fact that we’re doing it more because we love it than for the profit. We come in very early in the morning to start preparing for the day and we’re here throughout till night. We’re a two person staff so it’s a lot of hard work. Are we successful? I’d say quite, compared to where we started from but are we making lots of profit. No.

Are you exploring any growth options? Franchising maybe?

We’re looking into it. We have had a few offers and it’s definitely something we will consider in the future but I don’t know too much about it. I’m not a businessman. We want to be really careful who we get into business with because we want to maintain the tradition of our business. This homey atmosphere that is specific to us, the comfort and warmth of our place and growth might disrupt this. But we’re definitely thinking about it, it’s just not a short term goal.

What’s your secret of the success you’ve attained so far?

IMG_0543Our customer service. Our customers are like family to us. We know everyone by name and if we don’t know you we learn your name as you keep coming until we don’t have to ask for it anymore. The youth come here a lot and we know we can offer them a safe, homey place to hang out. They can’t find that in local bars because they don’t have a setting that encourages relaxation for youth. They may even kick them out of the bars when they become rowdy but here everyone is made to feel at home. Also, we offer really good, fresh food at honest and modest prices.

Okay so let’s talk practical stuff. How much do you get done with a two person staff?

It’s a lot of hard work. We get up early every day and during the day there’s a lot of work to be done. The important thing is to love what you do. We’re not making a lot of profit right now but we love doing what we do. We have regular customers that come in almost everyday and we have new people every other day. We’re loyal to them and we’re always open, always working to make sure they are satisfied.

Go to recipe?

Oh, I can’t tell you that. Grandma Bobbi’s recipes are secret but I would say that whatever you’re making prepare it with love.

Meet Guendalina and Davide, students at the JF Kennedy High School and customers of Homebaked.

Do you come here often?

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“We basically live here. We come here everyday after school. We hang out here a lot and we revise some school work sometimes. We’ve tasted everything: the pancakes, the bagels, the brownies, the shakes…” Davide.

“We know we’re safe here. Our parents know we’re here and Jesse and Carol are really kind to us,” Guendalina

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