Claudio Gonella is a fisherman, exporter, and one of the important personalities who dedicated their lives to building awareness and promotion Jesolo and Veneto in Italy and in the world.
Claudio, how did your story start?
I was born in Jesolo on August 15, 1949, to father Ottorino and mother Alfea, who had 7 children. Now there are 5 of us left.
What was your childhood like?
My childhood was very sad, I spent 6 years in a boarding school because my parents had a lot of work to do. I only returned home for the Christmas holidays and the summer months. I suffered a lot from the lack of my parents’ presence. I have already started high school in Jesolo, but I did not like my studies and I stopped at the age of 12. At this age, I started fishing with my father and I was really happy there. At the age of 13, my father opened a restaurant called Al Porto, which was given its name because it was near the port of Cortellazzo (part of Jesolo), where all the fishing boats were moored. I was already a waiter at the age of 13 and I was very good and popular with guests. At the age of 15, I went to a hotel school, and in just one year I received a diploma from Chef de Rang, un Sommelier, e Maitre d´Hotel.
Did you have any other hobbies?
When I had time I played football, which was always my passion. I played for the San Donà di Piave team. My football career went very well, I played on Sunday and even though I didn’t practice, I had excellent results. One day, the president of my team and the president of Sanpodoria showed up at my parents’ restaurant to sign a Serie A contract, but I didn’t want to because I didn’t want to leave my family, as I had a painful 6-year boarding experience. That is the end of my football era. I don’t know if I did good or bad because I could become famous.
So did you start fishing fully?
At the age of 18, I took a course to become a ship’s master and a qualified engineer, and I was promoted so I could also drive large cargo ships, but I never took advantage of it. At the age of 21, I married Mariccia and started a business by buying a fishing boat, and for two years I went fishing with my brother at sea every day. Then I opened my own fish shop.
At this time, there was a turning point and your business got into a quick turnaround?
After another 2 years, that was in 1988 I started working as a wholesaler and seller of fish all over Italy. In 1990, I became one of the most important exporters of fish in Europe. I became the number one importer of fresh fish and an exporter of frozen fish to the former Yugoslavia. n 1994, I organized the first international fishing fair in Jesolo sponsored by my company. I was the most convincing supporter of the opinion that if a person works in the interests of the community and the category, he also works for himself and enriches himself with new relationships and knowledge. I was also the biggest sponsor of this event.
How has business affected your private life?
In 1996, I divorced and I met my girlfriend Tania. She was 20, I was 46 years old. She loved to travel, so I opened a travel agency called Destination Travel and I had so much to do that she hired another 10 girls and became famous all over the world.
Did you get involved politically at the time?
In 1998, I was enthusiastic about Berlusconi and created the first FORZA ITALIA Club at my office, the first in Veneto, and became its president. It was an amazing experience.
What is the history of your beautiful house, and which one are you so proud of?
In 2001, I bought an old farmhouse in Jesolo, an 80-year-old building in the countryside on the banks of the Sile River, renovated it to make it the most beautiful house in Jesolo.
Your life has taken on a new dimension again, but the new news has not always been just happy?
Yes, in the same year, the doctors told me that they had found cancer in my body. I’m a warrior and I didn’t give up. In 2005, Carlotta was born, who is now 16 years old, and in 2008, Edoardo was born, who is now 13 years old. In June 2012, my partner Tania left me and left. I’ve been alone since then.
You didn’t give up again…
That’s right, I never lose heart. In 2014, I flew to Dubai as ambassador to deliver a memorial plaque from Jesolo to the Sheikh of Dubai and the Italian Consul. I met football players Cannavara and Maradona in Dubai, so I took the opportunity to invite them on holiday to Jesolo. For me, as a former football player, it was a great experience.
What was your credo, how an ordinary person becomes a successful entrepreneur?
Toughness, confidence, and optimism in life and in others and the power of the mind, never give up. I needed a maximum of 5 hours of sleep. I worked twelve to fifteen hours a day.
How did you ventilate the workload?
I worked a lot, but I also enjoyed a lot. I loved traveling, good food, fast cars, and motorcycles. I also did a lot of sports. I played football first, at a later age I learned tennis and won tournaments. In 2006, on holiday in the Maldives, I met the coach of the national football team, Donadoni. He’s a good tennis player when he came to Jesolo, we played tennis for three hours a day.
How do you perceive today’s Jesolo and nearby Venice?
Tourism in Jesolo has changed a lot. For many years, it has been the center of elite nightlife with more than 30 discos along the 15-kilometer-long coastline. Now Jesolo has preserved a bit of nightlife, but it has also become a place for families, just imagine the 5-star campsites we have and the comfort of the beach, where there is an organization of consortia and kiosks where the guest feels at home. He’s just pampered here.
Venice is an open-air museum, a romantic city par excellence, after this pandemic, we will still have to focus on innovation, but I am sure that the charm of this city will never disappear. My favorite place is the FLORIAN café, a café located on the beautiful Piazza San Marco, which has a history of 300 years. Not only did real movie stars go there, but also many political and important personalities.
Was it difficult for you to retire, to withdraw from public life?
I haven’t fully retired yet. I help my fellow entrepreneurs find new ways in real estate as well: I lead a more private life, but I am always an innovator, a researcher. The years go by and unfortunately today at the age of 71 I am still fighting cancer. I ride a bike every day, I play ping pong, I swim in the pool, I exercise, I go to the sauna. I have my own tennis court at the house, in the summer we organize tournaments with my friends almost every week. We organize nice evenings singing karaoke. And the song, which I sing all the time, is called Emozioni by Lucio Battisti.
I’m still optimistic and I can handle it….