ElevenTwelve is an e-commerce company specializing in Italian food and wine founded by four American footballers of Italian descent. Through their passion for American football and Italian cuisine, co-founders Giorgio Tavecchio, Vincenzo D’Amato, Davide Merlo and Paolo Tempo are on a mission to share their culture and community with the United States.
“Our goal is to be the premier Italian lifestyle experience in the United States. There are many Italian importers, but we offer unique and authentic experiences instead of just delivering products,” says Giorgio Tavecchio, CEO of ‘ElevenTwelve.
“Our mission is not to sell Italian products but to teach consumers to understand and love the Italian way of life. We do this by continually adding to our product bouquet, selecting not only on quality, but also on uniqueness and specialness. We are an American dream sharing the Italian dream!
Tavecchio grew up between Italy and the United States. Although he believed his path was to play collegiate football, he was offered a last-minute spot on the Cal Berkeley football team. “As the famous godfather said, ‘It was an offer I couldn’t refuse.’ I showed up on campus three days before the first game and ended up starting for four years – a really rare occurrence,” he recalled.Tavecchio ended up continuing his football career in the NFL, playing for six teams in nine years.
Tavecchio incidentally met each of his colleagues through football. It was their love of Italian food and wine that solidified their bond, beyond just friendship, and into the business world.
“We developed a deep bond of friendship that seemed centered around the table; this unique time and space in which we shared life together. Reflecting on this deep sense of connection, two completely different worlds – American football and Italian food and wine – seemed to come together beautifully.
We chatted with Tavecchio about how ElevenTwelve came together, his passion for Italian cuisine, the ElevenTwelve team, and more. Here’s what he had to say.
How did you go from professional football to co-founding ElevenTwelve? When did you decide to get into this new industry?
Perhaps the most defining experience of my formative university years was my friendship with Vincenzo D’Amato. His story is quite similar to mine: born in Palermo, Sicily and moved to the United States around the age of nine, he also grew up playing football but found his way to college by taking the shape of an American football ball.
In a rare stroke of coincidence, were the only two Italian-born college footballers in the entire country: in the same college, at the same time, playing in the same position (kicker).
Although we competed for the starting spot on the field, we became best friends due to our shared values and cultures, often hosting big team dinners ourselves. After four years of training at Cal Berkeley, I had the chance to continue my football career in the NFL. Due to our unique football backgrounds as Italians, Vincenzo and I were returning to Italy to help coach football clinics.
It was at one of these clinics in 2018 (when I was on the Oakland Raiders) that we met Paolo and Davide. And just like my chance encounter with Vincenzo at university, we immediately felt a close bond with Paolo and Davide, spending long hours around a table sharing stories and reliving (…and exaggerating) our glory days of football.
We discovered that life is better when lived together, just like playing better when playing as a team. Like in a football huddle, we looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s play this game to share this feeling with other people’. In this way, two worlds come together in one cause: to help others celebrate life, one meal at a time.
The seed planted in Italy then bore fruit in the United States when we launched ElevenTwelve in 2019. Whether it’s kicking field goals in the NFL or tackling on clay courts in Italy, we have chosen our jersey numbers to represent our brand: “Eleven” according to Davide. jersey number and “Twelve” after Paolo’s jersey number. We personified our union of American football and Italian cuisine by creating the first-ever football-shaped pasta!
Talk about your passion for Italian cuisine and culture. Did you grow up in the kitchen or in the restaurant business?
Yes, both of my parents are great chefs, so I have vivid childhood memories of sitting around long tables full of food and family, eating and chatting for hours. I came to cherish these experiences because they were truly invigorating!
One thing I fondly remember when I returned to Italy as a child was the everyday simplicity of Italian cuisine. The fact that every moment at the table – whether it’s a special occasion at the restaurant or a mundane Tuesday lunch – can be special. The secret is simplicity: a few quality ingredients with minimal prep, like Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Parmesan Tagliatelle (…Original Parmigiano though), can be incredibly satisfying and made in less than 5 minutes. !
Also, my mom comes from a family of restaurateurs, so I’ve grown up in and around kitchens all my life. In fact, when I was 15, my mother said to me: ‘you have two weeks to find a job or I will find you one’, so I naturally chose to be a waiter at the restaurant. local Italian.
Finally, in addition to having inherited my mother’s curly hair, I also inherited her “hanger”. As such, most of my day is centered around meals and decisions often made with my stomach.
Has professional football in any way prepared you for what you do now? Has your passion for the sport translated into your team’s passion for ElevenTwelve? Talk about what each of your co-founders brings to the table.
Football taught me to be resilient and to stay committed to a dream and a team, just like in Al Pacino’s halftime talk on ‘Any Given Sunday’. Our team is committed to helping others celebrate life one meal at a time! Like any other team, we each bring unique skills to the table.
Davide has spent over 30 years in the wholesale food and wine industry in Italy and has intimate knowledge and relationships with artisan producers in Piedmont. Paolo’s background in finance helps structure our business and his deeply charismatic personality is the soul of ElevenTwelve.
Vincenzo brings a southern Italian flair to our group, taking on much of the responsibilities in person while I handle much of the marketing and business development component. Our passion to live fully is what brought us together and it is the joy we want to share with others, especially around a table!
Did you have to pivot somehow because of COVID?
Yes, our initial strategy involved a more B2B and foodservice approach (restaurants, caterers) for strategic and economic reasons. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated our launch into e-commerce, where we are able to further convey our personal mission and purpose to consumers through our creative content.