Were your parents restauranteurs when you were born?
No. My dad was a zookeeper, believe it or not, at the Calgary Zoo. He was told he had gotten as high as he was going to. My mum could cook and he figured if he could feed the zoo animals… They started when I was nine and half. Pina my older sister and Marianne, a year younger than me. Pina was serving, I was delivering and slicing, and Marianne was cooking. This was on 11th Street between 14th and 15th Ave SW, 1972. Stromboli’s was there for two and a half years, then in Kensington where we built a house above us and restaurant below, so we couldn’t get away.
I was bartending by the age of 14. The Liqour Board came in and sat down with my Dad, talked with him, and let it go through. It was different then, more of a culture thing where ethnic groups stuck together. I worked as a bartender until sixteen, when I started to work construction. But between here and our restaurant in Kensington there were only six months where I didn’t work in a restaurant.
By 1979 I had two spots in Didsbury. Mimo’s Pizzeria and Silvio’s Place. I was 18 and there were three of us, me and two cousins. They gave me their wives, went out and worked construction, and I stayed out in Didsbury. Two and a half years, then back to Calgary to work with my Mum and Dad. We expanded to Guiseppe’s Lounge in ‘88 then sold the business in 1990. Kept the building, sold the business. Then me and my brother and our father Dominic opened Villa Firenza here, October 16th 1991.
Have you tried any other careers, other than construction?
No. It’s in my blood. I keep coming back. I could do both, but… I did it on and off. For nine years I didn’t work, I just helped out restaurants. I helped out at mama’s, waitered at my cousins, at La Trattoria d’Italia. The third floor there, Nick’s and Tony’s.
Is that kind of your business plan? Start a place, bring it up to speed, then sell it off?
Not really, it just turned out that way. My mum wanted me to open this place. I was supposed to do it in ‘97, and everyone was bugging me, “Why aren’t you opening it?”
I figured if I opened it, I had to work, so I figured I’d stick around for a while and wait for the right time. It’s been a year and a half now. There was no Stromboli’s for over twelve years, since 2002. The old location is still there, my brother took it over. It’s going to stay in the family until I die, it would just break my mum’s heart.
She laughs when she comes in here, with the way I’ve decorated in here, with all the old family pictures.
Here’s a picture from when we opened up, no signage, no patio. Some people in the neighbourhood still don’t know we’re open. But we’re starting to get people lining up here, even without “Restaurant” or “Pizza Joint” across the front. I want it to come along nice and slow and do it the right way.
Do you still help out next door?
No, we sold it. It’s my nephew’s. Three generations now, which is a great thing. 23 years in the family. This house was nothing, until my Dad got bored. He took my mum and they came in here and opened up La Focaccia.
It was like what we do now, pickled eggplant and peppers, sausages, all made in house. Spolumbo’s sausage started next door, in 1991. My mum did the first two sausages, the hot Italian and the sweet Italian.
Interview by Fred Holliss