I was born in Adelaide to Calogera Mamma of Three. Dressmaker and Owner of the famous Magdalena’s Alteration’s and Dry Cleaning business in Victoria Square with my Papa Giuseppe the Concreter, Gardener and supposedly the Better Cook in the house!
I was sent to Sicily with my Uncle Emilio to be shown off to my Nonni and the Family in our Town, Naso - the first SON - born in Australia!
Within a few years I was back again with my Mamma and Papa before starting at school. I guess when people ask me were you born in Sicily I say no but really in my blood I’m more Sicilian than them.
I really didn’t speak English until I went to school, like many of my cousins in Australia, we spoke our parents family old Sicilian dialect at home, which for many years down the track this became something I was proud of knowing and made many of the older generations there in Sicily proud, as well here to speak in their dialect. Almost like an art, that who was to know, was slowly being forgotten by the new generations.
Something that has been imbedded in me since day one…was always trying to learn more about our Traditions, Art, Culture and Food. I guess this is why I have always seen myself as the Ambassador to our town and Sicily in general.
After finishing up with school and wanting to work in Accounting, while looking for work one day a friend of mine who’s family owned a Pizzeria in Hindley St asked me one night to do him a favour and take out a pizza to a table, in return for a beer. Little did I know that this would be the start of my career - in hospitality! (Mind you I had been working in a Fast Food chain flipping Burgers since I was 15).
From then I was asked to go and work in the other pizzeria in the East End. So I started in the kitchen learning as much as I could from washing dishes to learning how to cook pasta and making pizza. To this day it has been something of a great learning and understanding of all the goings on of a restaurant kitchen. It’s not easy!
They soon decided I had too much of a mouth so I ended up working in the front of house - Wow did I have some fun! The diversity of people with the crazy hours and working 6 days a week 5pm start to 3am kitchen closing then walking out at 5am looking for one more knock off drink in the City - Madness! All the good times that I will never forget! Oh maybe some. After almost three years of this, I left the pizzeria and starting working for many different new cafe’s and Restaurant’s around Adelaide…in those days the 1980s and 90s we went to the next place wherever the money was better. One dollar more an hour - we were gone!
After many years of this I left and worked in Sydney, Double Bay, Paddington and Bondi for most of my 10 years right up to the Sydney 2000 Olympics. The build up to this event was electrifying, not long after this I spent a few years working in Melbourne, St Kilda before I realised it was time to come home to Adelaide and try and do something here with the great meat, fish, and vegetable produce on offer as well as our wineries. I was fortunate enough to work at the beautiful Botanic Cafe on East Terrace, while it had been a place I always went to with my friends when I came home from Sydney for my annual holiday. After about six months of working there I made the owner an offer in which he took and so this beautiful place became mine.
My first Restaurant as an Owner & Manager. My dream had started! Having this place was a start to many new influences on the menu from my Sicilian food tradition of the past from home to old family recipes. Such as the real Arancini made the right way - I would say I was one of the first to put this on the menu in Adelaide. I’m sure a lot people might argue that, but try telling my Mamma and all of the Mamma’s and Nonna’s of our famous Sicilian Club who made thousands upon thousands (the traditional way) at all of the early Italian festivals! Always sold out. People would agree with me that we do them the right way, and with the right ingredients! None of this "Bastardisations" - now that’s another story! Within this period I later on started Cono’s Gelateria and First Wood fired Pizzeria on the other side of East Tce around 2010. I then realised it was too much to ask from oneself to work between the 3 business on my own. Well, thanks to my family especially my sister Christina who has always been there to help!
Finally I decide to sell those businesses. In which to my dismay I did. The good thing is that the Wood Fired Pizzeria is still there and going, under a new name. The memories! In 2013 I also sold the Botanic Cafe, which still today like the other businesses having a special place in my heart.
After 3 years off from hospitality, building a house and being "Daddy Day Care" to my son Cono Jr, as well as the two girls. One night I was sitting on the lounge watching TV with my beautiful wife Milly, when we spoke, started to argue over what channel we should watch. I said if this is the case then I should go back to working nights! Little did I down that the "Sicilian Gods" were listening!
Two weeks later somebody asked me to go and check out this place in Rundle Street in the East End. I originally said "No" but I went and had a look. It so happened that the Owner was there and we got talking and within a few months Sicily Pizzeria e Bar was born. I was back in the business.
“Every time I wanted to get out they dragged me back in!"
The great thing about Sicily is that I "stuck to my guns" if you don’t mind the pun! What I had inside my head and my vision came true from redesigning of the place by simply adding white wooden chairs and blue tablecloths matching the blue stripe that is painted on the wall as a reminder of the Mediterranean Sea, and then adding the "Carrara" marble bar. Made with classic Sicilian stone imported specially from the Western side of Sicily. Sicily is where you can have a Drink, Eat, Sing, and Mingle at the bar. A classic Sicilian night out.
Writing the menu in our Dialect was something that many people, yet has the Italians laughing in disbelief, that I have written it like this but in a good fun way. We have some very home-style dishes in the Antipastu section, which has for example “polpette di poveri” my Mamma still makes for me, which has been passed down the generations. Meatballs without the meat in their day, people could not afford the meat so it was made without.
Today all people, children and vegetarians love them. To Our Pizza - we have a recipe that for us works very well - the dough is handmade and stretched the authentic way and then rested for 48hrs up to 72 hours. It’s even recognized as a classic by UNESCO. Its something I remember our Cummari Signorina teaching us back in the mountains with my family. Oh and our Woodfire Oven is one the best - if not the best oven in this town. So many "Pizziaolos" want to come and work with us here just to work with this Woodfired Oven - the "pizziaolo whisperers" are everywhere in this town. I have to say that we have had, and still have great Pizziaolos working in Sicily Pizzeria e Bar. With this, it was great to note that in our first year we were nominated as one of the “Best Pizzerias” in South Australia!
The Wine List - is short but good being mostly composed of all Sicilian Reds and Whites. It also includes Sicilian beer and other beverages from the region - many people said I couldn’t do it without selling Australian wines. Sicily is about the learning of the region from its food and beverages to give the "Full Sicilian Experience”. All of these are a good combination to make Sicily Pizzeria e Bar what it is today.