The place where we live has a strong influence over who we are. This is true for people, but it is also true for companies. And it is certainly true for Spii, in its symbiotic relationship with the city that hosts it, Saronno. Which, strangely enough, is not the same where the company was born.
In the last few centuries there has been a clear and evident flow of people, ideas and companies from small towns to cities. An evident and undeniable flood. Still, on the side, less obvious but still clear, another flow has gone in the opposite direction.
A flow that led a Lombard entrepreneur to move his small company from “la Gran Milan” to a town in the province of Varese: Saronno.
It was the 50s, and that entrepreneur who swam against the tide was the engineer Angelo Foiadelli. Spii was “Studio for Professional Industrial Engineering”, a company founded a few years earlier in Milan, and no one could have imagined that we would write about it today.
He made an unusual choice, at least apparently: to move his creature from the big city where it was born, to this small town surrounded by the sharp white teeth of the mountains. It was not so uncommon, though: there is more to Saronno than meets the eye while walking in its picturesque old town centre.
The historical time when the Engineer decided to move his “fabbrichetta“, as it is said in the dialect from Milan, is just one of the many happy ones in the history of Saronno. A town that has carved its way through history, turning its soil into the home of innovation for many, not only for Spii.
Stories of an Italian industrial miracle
Saronno has been a place of transit all along: situated at the intersection between the provinces of Como, Varese, Monza and Milan, on the way that connected the latter with Lugano, Switzerland, Saronno found itself in an interesting position for all of its history.
But not many had heard of it until the Renaissance, as Leonardo’s favorite pupil, Bernardino Luini, was commissioned to paint a fresco depicting the Madonna and the Adoration of the Magi in the sanctuary of Saronno. A fresco that is still visible today in what is called the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin of Miracles – and some true “industrial miracles” indeed she did.
History and legend converge here, as it is told that the painter stayed in Saronno with an innkeeper of particular beauty, with whom he fell in love so much that he used her as a model for his Madonna. As a thank you gift, she presented him with a very sweet liqueur of her invention, an elixir of herbs, toasted sugar, bitter almonds and brandy: the amaretto was born, and it was to become the most famous Italian liqueur in the world.
The “Amaretto di Saronno” first brought this small town at the heart of Lombardy out of the unknown and on the tables of ladies and gentlemen all around the world. And it marks, we could say, the first little “industrial miracle” the sanctuary performed.
Soon to be followed by others. Two hundred years later, on the occasion of an archbishop’s visit to the same sanctuary, two pastry chefs invent another delicacy: the amarettos, unique almond-flavored macarons. During the next century, a company such as Lazzaroni brought these biscuits and their traditional red tin box on a national and international scale (later on, even in fantasy worlds like the one of Harry Potter, as they appear in a scene in the last movie).
The town of Saronno where the engineer Foiadelli moved its company was exactly this: a bustling town with a fervent industrial scene. Its location between Milan and Switzerland turned it into an important railway junction between the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century: Milan-Saronno was the first line to be built in the area in 1879.
All of this is why Spii’s founder saw in this town an incredible opportunity for its young business.
He was in good company: Saronno at the time was not only home to famous biscuit and liquor firms, but also to many other industries. The world-famous Isotta Fraschini had a production site here: its cars were driven by the most prominent personalities of the time, from the Savoy family to Rodolfo Valentino, from Al Capone to Mussolini and D’Annunzio.
A history of oximorons
Unfortunately, by the end of the 60s Saronno had already reached its peak and began a slow but firm descent – it was no longer the industrial pole that one hoped for. During the following decades, many of the companies that once thrived on its soil were taken away by time, poor management or inability to stay up to date.
Many did. But it was not the case for Spii.
Our company found the way to keep evolving with the times, changing, adapting, exactly as the city of Saronno did.
Nowadays this may seem like just another town orbiting around Milan, but if you look well enough, you’ll see it is not.
You name it everywhere in the world, and people will know its fame – be it for biscuits, for a liquor, or for reasons they can’t even recall.
It is a town which is far from every border, away from the chaos and the problems of greater cities; but it is also part of the Great Milan, less than an hour away from everything that matters.
If you think about it, the whole story of Saronno is made of oxymorons: small but international, intimate but innovative, close but separated, famous but not too much to lose its own identity.
If you think about it, the whole story of Saronno is exactly the history of Spii.
A story of passion, curiosity and courage.
Are you curious to know more about it? Stay tuned.
See you next time,