GHEAMA by Irina Shengelidze: Georgian Success Story in Milan

Despite not being a career diplomat, we named her an Ambassador of Georgia in Forbes Woman. You will have no choice but to agree as soon as you become familiar with her new venture – “Gheama”, the first Georgian restaurant in Milan, Italy, which will not be just a restaurant, nor will it be exclusive to Italy.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet the entrepreneur and marketer Irina Shengelidze.

Forbes Woman Georgia #13 Issue Cover/ Photo Credits to Ana Boko

She first kicked off her studies at Tbilisi Ivane Javakhishvili State University, the program of international law, then travelled to the UK to further her knowledge in the same field, later returning to Tbilisi to complete an internship at the Consular Department at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After that, the Caucasus School of Business entered the picture, where Irina started working as a lawyer. Seeing as her top priorities have always been seeking innovative ideas and deepening her knowledge, she then went on to pursue a Master’s Degree in Italy.

During this time in her life, Irina grew convinced that jurisprudence was not really her thing, as she required more space for self-realization and took an interest in numerous fields, including the fashion industry. She studied for two years at the European School of Economics, British University in Milan, known as one of the capitals of world fashion and design. During this period, Irina did not speak any Italian. Her academic supervisors were Stefano Cordero di Montezemolo, whose name had long been associated with the Italian sports car company Ferrari, and the former director of the campus Mary Narenzo. As Irina tells us, she will always be thankful for their support and remember Narenzo’s words: “You have a great future ahead of you, Irina”.

Location: Unfound Door – Design Hotel / Photo Credits to Ana Boko

What was a dream for many, Irina made into reality: upon completing her internship, she started working for the Italian company “Società Italia”, combining more than twenty brands in the fashion industry. “Società Italia” was later replaced by “Share Diaries”, while Milan turned into Monaco. She pursued her career in Digital Marketing and established connections with the most famous representatives of the fashion and film industry as well as sports. Her main job was to communicate with the investors. Two years later, she founded her own company with partners, seeking out innovative ideas and projects to this day, connecting individuals and companies, and helping them find an investor.

No matter what she does, there has always been time left to mull over new ideas and projects – and that applies to the present times: according to Irina, she has recently taken on another international level initiative and promises that in the near future we will be the first she shares the updates with.  

Now it is time for “Gheama”, the first-ever Georgian restaurant in Italy, which will be so much more than just a restaurant.

Irina combined the restaurant and lounge concepts, founding the company “Gheama” back in 2019. Irina’s business partners are her restaurateur spouse Riccardo de Vicar, and her longtime friend Tony Tudino. Tudino has been Irina’s business partner for years. His name is associated with investments in over 17 successful, globally established businesses and companies in 6 countries around the world, with offices in Monaco and Dubai. The annual revenue of these businesses exceeds 1 billion euros. Tony Tudino is also the co-founder and the president of Global Equity.

“Any ideas I have for a project, I first share with him, because I find his insights invaluable. If he really takes a liking to a project, he expresses readiness to become a co-participant or an investor. It truly is a great luxury to have such an experienced business partner and a friend.”

Riccardo has 20 years of experience in the restaurant industry around the world. Curious and energetic, passionate about traveling; his open-mindedness and philosophical views push everyone on a journey in search of the meaning of life. An extrovert and an optimist, always ready to embrace change – Riccardo now adores Georgian culture, cuisine, and wine. This trio –Irina, Riccardo and Antonio – will be leading the way for Georgian business in Italy.

Location: Unfound Door – Design Hotel / Photo Credits to Ana Boko

Irina first met Riccardo in Ibiza, Spain and since then he has been dividing time between the Mediterranean island and Milan for three years. When Irina first had him taste the traditional dishes, the restaurateur with twenty years of experience was instantly convinced that it would definitely be welcomed in Italy. Riccardo’s reaction was quickly followed by laying down the plans to launch the business. Irina had the idea of opening the first Georgian restaurant in Italy a long time ago, but back then she thought it was a little too early for both the Italian and Georgian scenes.

“Now that traditional dishes have gained increased popularity and food plating techniques have been so refined, I thought it was time that made it possible for me to seek out people I previously had trouble finding”.

Shortly before the COVID outbreak, Irina and Riccardo were surprised to learn that a place was up for sale where the first Japanese restaurant in Italy – “Finger’s” was located. The owners of this popular restaurant were Roberto Okabe and the famous professional football player Clarence Seedorf. Today, “Finger’s” is a world-renowned chain that combines several restaurants in cities around the world besides Milan.

“I have been a frequent guest of this restaurant chain for a very long time. This place and the environment were so fascinating that I often dreamed about being the owner myself. Naturally, as soon as we learned that it was up for sale, we immediately flew from Ibiza and made the decision that the first Georgian restaurant in Milan should be located in this very spot, near one of the most popular tourist attractions, Porta Romana. I would like to thank the representatives of Finger’s and especially Roberto Okabe for their support.”

The big purchase was made at the very beginning of the COVID outbreak. The pandemic has shifted some plans, but Irina believes that it has also had positive effects. The partners managed to use this time to put a lot more work into the project and add a number of details they had not given a thought to previously.

“I love taking risks, and I tend to gravitate towards tackling ambitious projects. I think when in Milan, you either have to go big or go home”.

Irina believes that her restaurant will be one of the most beautiful ones in Milan. The architecture was designed by Italian architect Ivo Maria Redaelli (Studio di Architettura e Ingegneria Redaelli e Associati). As for the interior, after negotiations with several leading international companies, the choice was made in favor of the Georgian company “Rooms Studio”. Everything in the interior, with a few exceptions, will be Georgian. Irina says that guests visiting her restaurant will feel like they are in a museum. She tells us that the design is just what she and Riccardo had imagined.

Georgian designers will be responsible for the attire of the restaurant staff, changing up each season. The first designer on the list is “Elias Mosili”.

Naturally, the Georgian restaurant required a Georgian Chef, so the partners came to Tbilisi to select one. Having tasted all of the popular cuisine available, they chose to work with Chef Levan Kobiashvili. Irina says that Kobiashvili’s culinary creations are just what they had been looking for. The Chef flew over to Italy and the plans were arranged on the location.

“Georgia is adored in Milan, people have gotten a taste of Georgian cuisine, so I have no doubt that our restaurant will be quite popular.”

The idea for the name came up during the talks with the Chef. Irina tells us that “Gheama” sounds beautiful in Italian and is quite easy to remember. The restaurant is yet to be opened, but that hasn’t stopped famous Italian newspapers to report on it, saying that the time has finally come for Georgian cuisine to be introduced to Italy. Irina says that the opening of their restaurant in Milan is highly anticipated, a thought further confirmed by the special interest it has attracted from the local media thus far.

Georgian flavors will appear in Italy in September. Meanwhile, Chef Kobiashvili will be actively working on the menu. It will soon become known who Kobiashvili entrusts the Georgian restaurant with. Gheama will have a Georgian hall manager (the identity of whom will be revealed after the opening) with many years of experience of living in Italy and speaking the language. The owners believe that the Georgian restaurant will be needing an Italian or French sous-chef to infuse Georgian dishes with a European look. Standards and quality are top priority here. In the future, they plan to collaborate with world-famous chefs each season to prepare various dishes.

“We are extremely selective when choosing the members of our team. Each and every one of them must be highly experienced. We require them to take on the responsibilities as seriously as my partners and I do. Whether we are on the ground or not, we need to be sure that everyone is doing their job, providing top-notch service to the guests”.

Along with the dishes, Georgian wine will also be offered to guests paying a visit to “Gheama”. Irina has selected Qvevri wine and is open to new collaborations. She expresses readiness to export Georgian lemonade and cognac to Italy. Confident that she can easily arrange the logistics, Irina says that quality is the crucial thing. For the time being, she has focused on small productions and believes that this approach will ensure the highest quality and prove to be a success. 

“Georgian cuisine will be a part of our big project. Through “Gheama”, our guests will have a unique chance to get to know Georgia closer. This will be a space for artists, photographers, designers.”

But the aim is so much greater than merely creating a successful business. Along with the Georgian tastes, Irina wants people in Italy to enjoy Georgian culture.

“Ghaema” will be offering the lounge concept for its guests. Various events, exhibitions, fashion weeks will be hosted. Irina is positive that thanks to its unique design, the restaurant will become a favorite place for commercial shootings.

“Gheama” hall is designed to accommodate 120 guests. Club membership for guests of honor will also be considered. Irina says they are ready to welcome 200 such members.

Photo Credits to Ana Boko / Forbes Woman Georgia

You will probably cease to be surprised when told that Irina is not going to stop in Milan. “Gheama” and Georgian flavors will travel to Rome and beyond Italy, in Spain and Great Britain. Guided by the same standards, “Gheama” will be a chain of Georgian restaurants across the world.

“I have been living in Italy for 12 years. It really is a second home to me. This is where I have developed and grown up professionally. Judging from the love and affection my friends have shown me in Italy, I truly believe that this place will be loved and welcomed just the same”.  

Georgia has great potential on the European scene, so she wants to help her country from overseas. Irina says that she has a lot more power and opportunities over in Italy. The work that starts now will contribute to the popularization of Georgia on the world map and that is exactly why we choose to call Irina Shengelidze the Ambassador of Georgia, whose aim is to promote Georgia across Europe.

“I believe that Georgian wine and cuisine are one of the strongest aspects of Georgia’s positioning on the world map. With the right strategy, our country has great potential to become a favorite destination for many European tourists. My big goal is to promote Georgian wine and cuisine around the world. Oftentimes, Georgian restaurants located in different countries are only frequented by Georgians themselves and representatives of post-Soviet countries, my target, however, is Europe. I will do my best and prove to everyone that Georgia deserves to be more widely known and fascinating to the world than it is today.”