OUT OF AFRICA.
By Emma Childs.
When you have a resume as diverse and a career path as winding as Arianna Francioni, you transcend sole descriptors. The 36 year-old Italian native is a member of the U.N. consultancy program, architect, restauranter, wife, and mother. Her varied history has merged together for her current venture: an authentic Italian restaurant located in the heart of Gaborone, Botswana.
Francioni started her career in architecture in 2005 with a Master’s Degree in Bioclimatic Architecture and Environmental Protection from the Faculty of Architecture at the Sapienza University of Rome, Italy. After graduating, Francioni worked at Zaha Hadid Architects for several years until a new opportunity arose. In 2009, Francioni was offered a position in a United Nations consultancy program that would give her the chance to work all over the vast continent of Africa. After accepting the role and traveling to Mozambique, Francioni met her husband, Bernie. Their shared love of entrepreneurship fueled her passion for career expansion. Eventually, she made the bold decision to relocate to Botswana because they both “fell in love with the country and decided to relocate here,” Francioni explained in an interview with the Botswana Guardian.
While still settling into the new country and searching for her next opportunity, Francioni stumbled upon an idyllic, residential plot in Gaborone that featured an old villa, an unkempt garden, and a huge pepper tree. All of these components crafted reminiscent vibes of a Tuscan countryside and it was here, when the idea of Basilico truly started to form in Francioni ’s mind. With this plot, the support of her husband, Francioni was eventually able to give the city something that didn’t exist before: a fine dining, Italian restaurant for the local community, businessmen, diplomats, and government officials, away from the chaotic commercial zones of Gaborone.
After nearly a year of paperwork and building plans, Francioni ’s plan was finally set in action with demolitions starting in September of 2015. Three months later, her husband, the head chef of Basilico Fabio Riondino, his wife, and Francioni were involved in a car accident. Both men died instantly, Francioni and Fabio’s wife, who is also Basilico’s pastry chef, suffered critical injuries. Showing resilience, Francioni opened the restaurant six months afterwards.
From the very first moment of opening to the people of Botswana, the restaurant has provided quality service and Italian fine dining. Francioni works tediously to make sure that every element of the restaurant represents authentic Italian style, including recycled glass candle holders, oxidized iron under-plate, bleached wood furniture, and wrought iron chandeliers. Representing Francioni’s genuine spirit, she encourages the Basilico staff to “understand that [their] customers are not just a number.” This personal touch helps the restaurant further stand out. “Our guests find the food delicious and they appreciate every little detail here” and “[the customers] also appreciate the fact that I am hands on,” Francioni noted.
Basilico is now recognized as one of the best restaurants in Botswana. In addition to providing quality service to their daily customers, the restaurant has also hosted private dinners for corporations such as FNB, JC Leroux, Dalai Lama Mind & Life Institute, De Beers, Barclays and the Presidential Office. Speaking to Francioni ’s innovative spirit, she aims to make Basilico into an Italian culinary workshop to diversify the cuisine and keep the staff well trained.
While managing Basilico, or her ‘baby’ as she often refers to it, Francioni met her current partner, Tlotlo Golekanye, Motswana citizen, who went on to become the general manager of Basilico. They now have a young son. Together, they work towards further cementing Basilico into the Gaborone community as a genuine, Italian experience. Francioni has also revived elements from her occupational history. She recently completed her final consultancy for the U.N. in the expansion of a Green City Toolkit for Rwanda and she occasionally taps into her another passion, architecture, by working in renovation design for private clients.