Success story – Italy

Success story - Italy

Hajer Ben Belgacem

Owner of "Siamo al Dolce" bakery

1. Who are you and where do you come from? Please introduce yourself.

My name is Hajer Ben Belgacem and I’m from Tunisia (Tunisi). I’m 45 years old. I’m married, I have three children and I live in Senigallia, near Ancona. I am affectionate and kind. People tell me I’m too kind. I like talking and being with my family. I have always liked cooking (a huge passion of mine). I really enjoy myself when I cook and see others satisfied. I also like traveling.

2. What are the areas of your project?

I came in Italy, in Puglia, with my mother’s husband on the 25th of September 1992. At the beginning I didn’t like coming to Italy and I didn’t want to. My mother wanted me to come, and I gave up. I immediately felt good. It intrigued me so much that there weren’t any differences between Tunisia and Puglia. During the first six months I stayed at home because I couldn’t speak italian and I didn’t know how to interact with italian people. In March of 1993 my mother was pregnant. After her pregnancy some Egyptian girls came to see me and told me to go out with them. I got along well with them, but I didn’t like going to the disco. They were born in Italy and helped me speak Italian and they corrected me. In December 1999 I went to Senigallia, where I still live.
Now I have beautiful memories from that time. Some bad things happened in Italy, and I hated them, but slowly they became beautiful memories too.

3. What made you become an entrepreneur?

I did little steps, time by time. During my first marriage, I was a housewife. I was the typical Tunisian woman: I was locked at home, and I spent my time cooking and looking after my children. I didn’t have plans. After my second child I didn’t think about myself. I thought only about my family and my family problems. From 2002 to 2007 there were dark times.
In August 2009 I realized I had to wait for someone to have money and I thought I didn’t want to depend on anyone anymore. So, I went to search for a job, and I became a cleaner in Marotta, near Senigallia. I bought my first car with my own money. After that, there was the real estate crisis and I resigned because my salary was low. Michela Grup, a Romanian owner of a cleaning company, hired me and I had a great salary. Until 2011 I worked there, then I met my current husband. In 2013 I had my third child. From 2011 to 2013 I worked in a canteen. After that, I worked, and I still work in a hotel in Senigallia as a cleaner.
In the meantime, I cooked for the love of it. I have always made cakes for my friends and my family, and I used to come to a store to buy pastries and kitchen items. One day the owner of this store, after the first pandemic lockdown in 2020, called me and told me she wanted to sell her business and asked me if I was interested. I thought about it. At first my family didn’t agree because the figure was high. They were afraid the bank wouldn’t have helped with a mortgage or a loan. Then, we found a financial institution that gave us a loan. The owner made also promissory notes, and the business became mine on the 27th of October 2020. This shop is called “Siamo al dolce”. The name was chosen by me and a friend of mine. I also repainted the shop.
In November 2020 there were few customers and Italian government decrees closed all activities because of covid. My store fell into the food category and could stay open.
Rent, bills, promissory notes are limiting expenses and I have thought many times about closing. It was a family investment and for me it’s a challenging way to move on and to get the lost money back. I wanted to find a job all year round, not just during the summer season. If covid hadn’t existed, it would have been very different.
This year (2022) hasn’t gone very well, but in this last period something changed. Now the important thing is to pay the expenses.

4.What difficulties have you encountered?

The Italian language and a greater resourcefulness. I wanted to be “smarter”, as intuitive.

5. What would you say to all women entrepreneurs that are listening to you right now?

– Learn and speak Italian. The most important thing is to adapt to Italian customs and traditions. You can’t come to Italy and live like in your home country.
– Show respect and adapt to the host country life. Because I saw so many migrants living as if they still were in their own country. Many foreigners don’t interact with Italians.