This story is a tribute to courage, and the strength of teamwork when each individual's commitment is focused on the same goal. The protagonist of this story is Maria Pia Baldi, known to most as 'Wonder Pia' and often greeted by many in the paddock with affectionate cries of "Ciao mamma!" as she makes her way from the motorhome to the pits on a scooter.
In recounting this chapter of her life, Pia often uses the word "we" because "you can't go anywhere alone". Her adventure in the World Championship began in the early 1990s when, together with her husband Severino, she launched a pioneering project by introducing a travelling restaurant in the paddocks of the Italian and European two-wheeled championships. The distribution of roles was decided spontaneously: Pia took care of the kitchen and the dining room, while Severino guided and looked for suppliers at each new stage.
Daniele, one of their three sons, joined the team in 1996, and since Severino's death in 2011, he has been dedicated to developing the business started by his parents, with the invaluable support of Pia.
"We used to have a furniture company," Pia starts to tell us, recalling the moment the idea was born.
“For some time the situation didn't give us much satisfaction. My husband always liked motorbikes and racing. One day, a friend of his, a team owner, asked him to drive one of his trucks and prepare food for the team. Then Severino came home and said to me: ‘I have to tell you something’ and he explained to me that the paddock lacked a place where people could go to eat and that we could consider this new project. I didn't hesitate and said, 'We'll do it now!'. At that point, he started to raise some concerns, but for my part, I had needed a change for a long time and this was the opportunity".
Used to cooking for friends on camping holidays and motorbike rallies, Pia and Severino embarked on their first professional trip, curious to discover the many aspects of the new job they were starting: "My husband would drive and I would hold the map in my hand to see where we were and look at the landscape for reference". At that time, GPS was not a travel tool, so Severino and Pia were often disorientated on the roads of Europe, but as they could always rely on each other, they never felt lost.
"The first few times we travelled I was lost," Pia confesses, "and I'm not ashamed to say that because up to that point I had never been outside Italy.”
At the time, not having a single European currency forced Pia and Severino to go out with a briefcase in which they kept pounds, francs, pesetas and all the coins they would need during the trip. "While my husband was driving, I was preparing the invoices to present to the teams, I had learned how to manage the accounts when we had the furniture company and I was still doing my best in this new job," she recalls.
Their friends and neighbours saw Severino and Pia as adventurers, who awaited their return to hear the stories of their truck journeys through Europe and were eager to know who they had met. "In our hospitality, we have had show business celebrities, sportsmen, diplomats, singers, and we have met so many people I would never have imagined meeting," Pia explains.
The good memories were also accompanied by some difficult moments. From the first appointment, many customers came, but cooking, waiting tables and washing dishes between two people was not easy: "Eventually we organised ourselves by buying tents and hiring people to help us", Pia recalls: "In the early years, we invested most of our income in improving the way we worked". In the beginning, Pia's days were endless: "I would get up at 7 a.m. and not go to sleep until 3 a.m. I wanted to make sure I had finished the day's work and had everything I needed for the next day. It was exhausting, but we wanted to succeed in this project and we were determined to provide a better and better service. So we plucked up the courage and went ahead. When you have the desire to do, you just have to organise yourself and anything is possible".
In the 1990s, the European and World Championship races were held on the same weekend at the Assen TT. Severino managed to bring one of Pia's main courses to Wayne Rainey at the zenith of his career. The American loved the dish and asked to speak to the people who prepared that meal and proposed them to become his cooks the following season. Pia and Severino signed the contract and set out to conquer the world.
They started working for the official Yamaha team, always remaining faithful to the flavours of Pesaro's cuisine and the quality of local products: "We have always worked hard and have taken great satisfaction - says Pia - My husband left us in 2011 and at that time it was my son Daniele who took his place. I remember some people saying: 'Now that his father is gone, who knows how it will go...'. I am very proud to see how our son has been able to make this business grow even more, keeping faith with the values with which the company was born".
In fact, over time, Severino Hospitality has grown and Daniele has been able to adapt its catering services to the needs of the paddock and, since 2004, the Dorna Sports staff who are present at the Grand Prix are also welcomed at their tables: "I will always thank my son for working so hard. With the Dorna staff we have become one big family, we share a deep respect and have a strong relationship," says Pia with satisfaction.
Over the years, Severino Hospitality has welcomed thousands of people, and for the paddock regulars, being with Pia means being in a safe corner. In an environment where there are young riders looking to make a name for themselves as well as World Champions, Pia's allows them to let their guard down when they are in her company, leaving room for smiles: "In the paddock they call me 'La Mamma' and sometimes I wonder 'How many children do I have' - she says jokingly before continuing -. Everyone loves me and it's great to feel the affection of so many people of all ages. And the best thing is that they treat me like a mother, because some of them come and ask me when they are going to find a particular dish. Other times, especially the Italians, they say 'How nice! I feel as if I had eaten at my grandmother's house' because we know that with grandmothers you always eat well. It is these demonstrations of affection that make up for all the sacrifice and the effort.
Supported by a team of professional chefs, Pia is present at all Championship events to ensure that her hospitality maintains the same flavours as when it was just her and Severino. In a rapidly changing world, the mission from 'Wonder Pia' is to maintain that corner of the paddock built with her husband as a place where they can relax, where tradition and passion allow her guests to feel at home, wherever they are in the world.