Fears, anxieties and hiring problems are no stranger to any business owner, and certainly not to the head of a family-run Italian restaurant who spoke about his struggle opening up in Hornchurch.

Gusto launched on April 3 and owner Fitim Driza, who also manages kitchen staff, yesterday (April 25) said accomplishing that was the hardest feat of his career.

Fitim, 38, who runs the restaurant with his Italian wife Jess Krasniqi, 36, is from Albania but has always had an obsession with Italian food.

Before Gusto opened, Fitim said he was anxious and afraid, having moments where he kept his fears from his wife, given the amount of pressure he was under due to opening delays.

"I was fearing, I was extremely afraid for both me and my wife," Fitim said. "It's anxious, its scary in moments, you cannot talk to your partner because you're going to scare them with what you feel.

"For us, the hard times where when you see your premises as a wonderful dream, but it's taking longer to open."

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Romford Recorder: Business has been good since Gusto's April 3 opening, Fitim saidBusiness has been good since Gusto's April 3 opening, Fitim said (Image: Fitim Driza)

Fitim and Jess, the latter responsible for front-of-house staff at Gusto, previously ran Breakfast Lunch & Kitchen cafe at the Balgores Lane address since 2017 before adapting it into a restaurant.

The 38-year-old said they had to close for a year-and-a-half to facilitate the change which he described as a challenging period.

Fitim and Jess have two children, son Ukson, five, and daughter Obriana, eight.

"It was extremely difficult until the day we opened," he said. "But the support from our local community has been amazing.

"I feel like I'm in debt to the the community - I don't want to let them down, I'm scared [and adamant] that I don't let them down," he added.

Romford Recorder: Fitim said he owes much to his wife in getting Gusto openedFitim said he owes much to his wife in getting Gusto opened (Image: Fitim Driza)

Gusto, which has food inspired by Italian regions Tuscany and Naples, has had strong business so far, Fitim said.

But the business owner, who employs six staff, said it had been tricky to find dedicated and hardworking staff, especially after the government's change to working visa requirements.

"It's difficult to see the hardworking people that can't get a job," Fitim said, in reference to people who could not secure the right to work.

Earlier this month, the government raised the minimum salary threshold for a skilled work visa from £26,200 to £38,700.

Waiting staff in London are paid £28,000 on average, according to recruitment site Glassdoor, making it difficult for managers such as Fitim to find the right people.

But despite those issues, Gusto has six full-time staff, having started with four, a number expected to rise to ten in the summer.

Fitim praised his wife's support making the opening possible.

"Without my wife I would not be here [in this position]," Fitim said. "My wife is my best friend, my everything - that's how I'm here."

Fitim, who lives in Dagenham with his family but hopes to move to Hornchurch, has worked from the age of 14, first as a kitchen porter.

He recalls growing a beard when vying for shifts during his first stint at a restaurant in Russell Square, central London.

"I used to leave my beard on because nobody would take you underage," he said. "I begged the chef for two months to become a chef myself."

Fitim was finally able to get chef shifts when the regular staffer was taken ill.

"One day I wore the white jacket and since 2001 I have never taken it off," he said.

Since then, the 38-year-old has worked with Italian chefs at other firms from 2001 until 2017, when he set up his cafe in Balgores Lane.

Romford Recorder: Fitim said he was 'extremely in love' with Italy and its cuisineFitim said he was 'extremely in love' with Italy and its cuisine (Image: Fitim Driza)

Prior to Gusto's opening, Fitim said he has regularly travelled to Italy, given his wife's family ties, and to see his sister who lives in Tuscany.

"I'm extremely in love with Italy," he said. "I love exploring the food, talking to the chefs and learning the skills."

Such is his devotion that Fitim has sought to bring part of the European country to Hornchurch.

"Here I am, excited each day, I've got different challenges," Fitim said in reference to running Gusto. "This restaurant is my third child."

He is keen to open more restaurants after cutting the red tape on his first, the highlight of his career.

"When I reopened and I saw the smiles of locals coming in the doors, that was the proudest moment," he said.

"When I make them happy with the food we make - those are precious moments for me."