Family ties: D'Issa
When Ana-Maria first came over here from Croatia she was 18, could speak no English and had no qualifications. Since then she’s worked her way up to become an accountant by juggling several jobs to pay for university. She’s so driven, so compassionate. She’s my role model. We met seven years ago, and I proposed to her at Heathrow Airport in 2006: I waited for her at arrivals holding a sign with her name on one side and “Will you marry me?” on the reverse.
Since then we’ve travelled a lot to Croatia. We both love its food, so about two years ago we decided to bring it to Britain. The quality of the food is amazing. Places like Istria used to be part of Italy, and the wines and truffles are so good that Italy is now buying them back. The olive oil wins awards left right and centre, the fresh fish and cheese is amazing—yet it was almost impossible to buy Croatian food here.
All this persuaded us to start D’Issa. We spent six months sourcing producers—eating our way round the country—and then set up at Borough Market. Since then we’ve gone from strength to strength. We enjoy it, there’s a buzz, and we still have our jobs elsewhere to support us: Ana-Maria works as a chartered accountant and I’m in sales. It’s difficult to juggle, but we work well together.
We argue about things of course, like any couple. We don’t have much time to sit down, and then we’ll try to have meeting about stuff and the baby’s crying. There’s always something to do, always something that needs discussing or filling out or uploading, but we’re both so passionate. Plus the food is amazing.
I am a free spirit and have never done just one thing at a time—even at school I had a million activities after hours. D’Issa has been going for over a year, and all that time I had a full-time job that took me all over the world, plus got pregnant and had a baby. I guess I just function well when doing lots of things.
I have had a successful career as an accountant, but I always knew I wanted to have my own business. Over the years I toyed with different ideas, but never took them very far. Then Chris and I happened to be in Croatia at the same time as a food fair was being held: we spoke to some producers, then started sourcing some amazing Croatian food—olive oil, cheese, truffle products, and delicacies like fig jam and Smokvenjak. We applied to Borough Market and that was it.
We love being at the Market and talking to customers. We both have the same positive energy, which I hope comes across. It is great to have somebody to bounce ideas off and share the highs and lows. We decide everything together. Sometimes it takes a while to agree on things: although we almost always mean the same thing it can be a winding road getting there—and we are both stubborn!
Still, we try not to talk shop the whole time, and with our gorgeous daughter to distract us that’s not difficult. Although we discuss business a lot it doesn’t feel stressful. As long as that remains the case it’s not a problem. Life is certainly never boring!