VETERAN restaurateur Marco Giannasi declared yesterday he had “no regrets” over his decision to sell the landmark Battlefield Rest business in Glasgow, as he reflected on achieving 50 years in the hospitality sector in Scotland.

Mr Giannasi sold the Battlefield Rest business as a going concern to long-serving staff member Alex Matheson and wife Jen Doherty last December, having founded the bustling restaurant in 1994. The sale was not announced publicly at the time, with Mr Giannasi noting regulars had learned of the deal by word of mouth over recent months.

In an exclusive interview with our sister title The Herald, Mr Giannasi highlighted his wish to sell to a member of staff to avoid the “traumatic” scenario of an entirely new operator coming in.

And, reflecting on his decision to sell, he said: “It is good times for me. It was the right time for me. I feel good about it. I am positive about my decision and, looking back, I have no regrets. It was for a good reason.”

He and wife Yellena continue to own the historic building which is home to the Battlefield Rest and are now the landlords of the business, which employs 22 people. Mr Giannasi continues to work at the restaurant for four half-days each week.

On whether the working dynamic for him was much as it was previously, Mr Giannasi said: “Alex has got a very good nature. I think we are working together so far as a team. We are really [like] father and son – that type of relationship. We slag each other, we joke. I call him ‘mini-me’.”

Asked about his decision to sell, Mr Giannasi said: “Before lockdown, I was contemplating making the next move, how to do it best, to detach myself from the pressure of work and to consider more the reality of life.”

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He added that, after he had eventually made his decision to sell, the deal had taken a bit more than a year to conclude.

Mr Giannasi, who noted Mr Matheson had worked at the Battlefield Rest for about nine years, said: “I offered the opportunity for any member of staff to come forward and [said] if you are interested in taking the business, this is the opportunity. Otherwise the next step was to go public and to get a completely new operator to take over and [that] would have been much more traumatic for ourselves, myself, and the staff.

“A few months later, Alex…came back with some offer.”

Mr Giannasi noted that it was on March 24, 1973, that he had first become involved in the hospitality sector in Glasgow.

He emphasised that this move had been unexpected, given he was studying architecture and design in the Italian city of Lucca and had a master of arts qualification. His move followed the death of his father, Luigi, on March 4 that year.

Commenting on his move to Scotland to take over the running of L’ariosto on Mitchell Street, Mr Giannasi said: “It was really a shock to the system because I wasn’t planning to be in this industry in the first place.”

Mr Giannasi’s father had opened the first Italian restaurant in Glasgow in the late-1950s, Canasta in Parliamentary Road.

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Amid redevelopment, he had then relocated to Mitchell Street in the early-1970s, where he took over premises and founded L’ariosto, undertaking a major redevelopment and ordering furniture from Italy.

Mr Giannasi noted his father had also had a keen interest in art and design.

Asked about the highs and lows of his 50 years in the hospitality sector, Mr Giannasi said of the L’ariosto move: “The low was obviously stepping into a massive 140-seat restaurant with about 36 members of staff [who] I had never met before [and were] much more mature than me and trying to get into this new world for us and for my mother especially.

“It was a learning process for us and [it took] a few years for us to try and find our way around.”

Noting it was a “different type of restaurant”, he added: “It was an eye-opener for us. The low point was trying to equalise my father’s experience and talent, which was impossible.”

Mr Giannasi said that, after moving to Glasgow from Italy in 1973, he had run L’ariosto with his mother, Leda, for about eight years, before deciding to sell the restaurant for personal reasons.

He then went on to restore the Pirn Inn at Balfron and ran it for about seven years, before opening Toscana in Milngavie. Mr Giannasi also operated a catering unit at the Glasgow Garden Festival in 1988.

The Battlefield Rest opened on October 22, 1994. The restaurant notes on its website that its premises, dating back to 1914, were “originally used as a resting and courting place for tram travellers”.

Mr Giannasi highlighted the fact that the building had been at risk of demolition before he succeeded in acquiring it. He launched the Battlefield Rest with Joe Moretti, who Mr Giannasi noted had retired from the business about 16 years ago.

The restaurant was owned by Mr Giannasi and his wife at the time of its sale last December.

Mr Giannasi highlighted the prospect of acquiring the building for the Battlefield Rest as the high point of his 50 years in the hospitality sector.

He said: “The high point was obviously when I realised I could purchase the building. That was what really attracted me. My background was old buildings and [an] interest in design.

“It was such an excitement when I realised I could actually purchase the building I’d been passing [for] four-and-a-half years before and was getting increasingly dilapidated. Every day, it was getting worse and worse and worse.”

Mr Giannasi, who bought the building around the middle of 1992, said: “It took [about] two years to get it back to the way it was.”

Asked about the funniest moments during his 50 years in the hospitality sector, Mr Giannasi recalled the opening day of the Battlefield Rest.

He said: “On the first day when we first opened, the full shelf of crockery in the kitchen, [with] the plates, collapsed. There was such an impact of noise – at least 100 plates – the shelf collapsed from the wall.

“It was like a bottle of champagne when you crack on the boat – we just had 100 plates smash to the floor.”