One recent New Year, Lavinia Davolio, 34, and her husband were stuck on Lord Howe Island off Australia due to bad weather. There was no internet and she admits to feeling a real sense of urgency about getting back to work. Had she still been working in the City her stress levels may have been lower because, she says, ‘working in a big bank, you are not indispensable. I kept thinking about our new products and website and shop and was so eager to get back to it all in a way I wouldn’t have been had I still been a banker.’
At just 27, Lavinia Davolio was working at Barclays Capital in Canary Wharf, in charge of a team of men. She was on the trading floor and liaising with clients, and she loved it even if the majority of her clients were men in their sixties who thought, ‘Who’s this young kid, same age as my daughter, telling me what to do?’ It was an attitude that made her all the more determined to be credible, competent and meticulous.
‘I had to be an expert,’ she says, ‘and very entrepreneurial.’ These are skills she has brought to bear to great effect in her new life as a purveyor of high-end Italian confectionery. It was in May 2013, when working at UBS, that her career took an unexpected turn. She turned up to her office and her security pass wouldn’t open the gate. Moments later she found herself being escorted by security guards out of the back of the building – as were 4,999 other UBS employees that morning. At that perplexing moment, locked out of her own office, a shocked Davolio decided that redundancy was precisely what she wanted. She thought of it as an opportunity to do something different and better. ‘It had been a good job, but it didn’t really reflect who I was, what I wanted to do and be.’
The person she was had always loved cooking and she realised that she wanted to do something related to food. It had long been a fantasy to open an Italian cake shop or pasticceria, and the notion suddenly became a possibility.
Davolio was brought up in a small town in northern Italy between Bologna and Milan, the second of six children. Her passion for cooking began when she was very young, learning techniques from her two grandmothers who lived at home with her family on the farm. They always used the hundred or more varieties of seasonal home-grown fruits and vegetables around them, and everything was made by hand, from scratch. She honed her skills in Italy and continued to explore as she cooked for friends in London.
After the City, she went to cookery schools in Devon and Italy, planning to open a restaurant. But then she discovered the extraordinary things that could be done with sugar-coating techniques, and Lavolio was born. From starting out in December 2013 at food markets around London, her business now sells her unique wares – sugarcoated nuts, fruits, spice, nougat – at over 200 stockists, including Partridges, Fortnum & Mason, Amazon and her own website – as well as her shop in Parsons Green. They have won numerous awards and been described as ‘little nuggets of joy’.
‘I still work really hard, but I created this job and that’s satisfying. I learned to block out stress in the City so I’m good at separating my professional and personal life now. I am married to a City man who’s very supportive. He says I’ve become a lot “sweeter” since leaving the City.’