Just north of Tannery Street, Mondello Ristorante can be found in a cozy corner of Streetsville. This week, The Medium sat down with the co-owner and UTM 2009 alum, Jessica Spiteri.

“I went to UTM as a mature student, already having been out of high school for eight to nine years. I was involved in various gigs in hospitality, bartending, and bookkeeping, which I ended up really enjoying,” says Spiteri.

It was her experience in bookkeeping that, in her late twenties, motivated Spiteri to pursue a CA (now CPA) at UTM.

“I really had no interest in post-secondary, and really no idea what I wanted to do after high school. I wanted to experience lots of different things, travel a bit, and when I knew what I wanted, I just went for it,” she says.

“I think that looking back, I would advise people not to wait that long, because it was a long time to wait to go back to university. But there is benefit in thinking about what you really want to do.”

“There’s so much value in the first few years—in the lessons and the professors you meet, and a lot of it might just get lost in the ‘I want to have fun’ phase,” she adds.

Spiteri mentions how during her undergraduate classes, she enjoyed courses such as statistics, business law, and most of all, tax law, which was then taught by professor Joan A. Kitunen.

Although Spiteri obtained a Bachelor of Commerce with distinction, she did have her share of struggles.

“I had a house at the time, so I was working to pay my mortgage, and with going to university later, I was older than people in my group, so that was a challenge.” But she added, “Once you get over those things and get a good routine down, it’s okay, and I really enjoyed myself and my education.”

Spiteri began work at Ernst and Young after graduating, and mentions how she always made time for attending networking events with recruiting firms. Spiteri also notes the advantage of having more bookkeeping and accounting experience on her resume.

“Confidence is huge, because there’s really no reason to be nervous. Everyone has talent and a lot to offer, so people have to stop worrying […]—because you are what you are, and if you want to get somewhere, you will get there,” she adds.

While in school in 2008 and 2009, Spiteri was involved in starting up the restaurant in 2007 with the chef (and her now business partner) Nicola Latomasi. Spiteri received support from her friends, family, and even UTM faculty.

“I was assisting in the start-up, so after class, I would talk to my professors and get their input,” Spiteri says. She also received help on legal structuring from her UTM professors.

Following the start-up, Spiteri wasn’t involved with the restaurant for the next three years.

“I ended up walking into the restaurant then, when it was not doing well at all,” says Spiteri. “I was working at Ernst and Young’s at the time, and the chef and I were close, so he asked me if I could join in since their partner had left. The place was hundreds and thousands of dollars in debt. It was a couple of months away from closing its doors, and he asked me if I could help them, and I said I could try.”

Spiteri then began to work part time at Mondello Ristorante during the night, while working at Ernst and Young in the morning. Spiteri eventually left Ernst and Young to pursue her role as co-owner and general manger full time.

“The restaurant has been operating for 10  years now, three years of not doing well, and seven years of turnaround.”

Spiteri describes how the restaurant has developed a loyal customer base, which she believes is largely due to her team. “I’m very selective of who I hire. They don’t even have to have any experience, but they need to be genuinely interested and warm and friendly, and someone who you would want to serve you.”

“Artists really seem to gravitate towards this place, and I’m not an artist […] but everybody else seems to be very talented,” she adds. “We have a very talented musician here, and my bartender is writing an actual comic book.”

For Spiteri the most enjoyable experience has been working with people. “I want to walk around and talk to people, find out who’s having dinner, where they’re from, how they heard about us—and that is how I learn.” Spiteri then uses this feedback to implement changes around the restaurant.

The restaurant has hosted several corporate events, proposals, and even a wedding.

Spiteri also describes the importance of gaining practical experience and applying information as you learn it, along with developing social skills and staying away from indecision when choosing opportunities.

“It has been rewarding to see where we are now, and that is not to brag about it by any means, because you can instantly end up back where you started. But I’m grateful that it happened and I’m proud of it,” she says.

When asked about what advice she would give to her undergrad-pursuing self, Spiteri says to “Stop worrying. Just do your best—you have to do the work and put your whole heart into it, but there’s so much not in your control, so why not try to do your best and let the chips fall as they may.”