The route of beer from New York to Lecce, a long love story

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I travel a lot and I’ve been living abroad for ages now but I still remain an ambassador of Made in Italy, from fashion to food. You will therefore understand my surprise when, on a rainy Irish summer , while I was talking with an American friend of mine, I bumped into someone really particular: a young entrepreneur, a world wanderer like me, who has decided to return to Italy to produce beer, Mauro Zilli.

Here’s an extract of our long chat, while drinking his beer and eating taralli.

When I say New York, what’s the first word that comes to your mind?

Multiculturalism. New York is a melting pot of cultures, smells and sounds merged with each other creating an artistic reality that is expressed not only in design but also in the kitchen.

Where did your “American Dream” come from?

(Laughing) My dream comes from the TV. I grew up watching American series and 25 years ago, the US were a window to the another world. The movies of Bud Spencer and Terrence Hill have fueled that dream.

Since 2008 up to a year ago, you were living in New York. What brought you there?

I felt a strong need to learn something new. After a master’s degree, I realized that having an experience in America would have been  the ideal for me. It was the challenge to “grow” and break the mold. I had already been in Japan, and I thought that that was the right time for me to achieve my “American Dream.” Unfortunately I arrived when the crisis was breaking down in the United States , so I experienced really hard moments in the beginning. But this did not prevent me from keep on going. The Italian-American community of Arthur Avenue in the Bronx has helped me so much. I found my first job in a restaurant and even though I lived in a two-hour trip, I did it anyway with pleasure.

Why did you decide to come back home?

You said the magic word: home. I came back because despite the adventure in America has brought me a lot of satisfaction, I felt the need to build a “home”. The Salento is my land, my family belongs here and I realized that if I wanted to build something solid, I had to do it back to my country. I felt the need to transform the strength I learned and built up in New York into something that would make a difference. I came back because I think it’s the natural conclusion to my personal training adventure:  bring to Salento what I’ve learned in America.

What did you learn from the American dream?

I learned the existence of meritocracy ,I learned that hard work pays off. America taught me not to judge and not be judged. I learned that anyone who has the will can become someone and make a difference. Americans have taught me to live work with more serenity, find the right balance between career and private life, giving more importance to human relationships and not the work itself. They taught me what teamwork is and how important it is to share the success with others. I came back enriched with this baggage and with the will to make a difference in my homeland.

They  say that love is the greatest engine of all but in your case it’s even business : how does your project L’Aura was born?

My project “L’Aura Birra”  comes from a word pun in my dialect, where “aura” means “the other”, a reference to something new, something different. In addition to this, my fiancee’s name is Laura and I wanted to prove her the seriousness of my intentions! I decided to invest in the production of craft beer because it is the most common drink and it is drunk all over the world. Furthermore, there were already a lot of successful wine producers in Salento and  making the difference in this market would have been much more difficult. For this reason and after a huge market analysis, I decided to  start my business producing brew.

You’re proud of Puglia, how important is it to support the local economy?

It is very important. For my production, I decided to go totally local: packaging, bottles and labels are all produced by companies of Salento. This is my way to help the economy of my region, enhancing the collaboration with other businesses in order to keep the local economy alive.

What is the X-Factor to be successful as you are?

 First of all you need to have a project, you must be prepared to analyze yourself and assess your potential. You must be willing to learn new things and not be afraid of new ideas. Most of all, never give up. The beer of Salento recently crossed the Italians borders  hitting Belgium. I bet I’ll soon find it in a pub in Temple Bar: then I’ll toast to Mauro, the Salento and my beloved taralli.

by Maggie A. Romano


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