From the 1950s to the 1970s, post-war Italian immigrants arrived in their thousands to this metropolitan area and before long bakeries, delicatessens, barber shops and churches had sprung up. Over the decades, the Italian spark has waxed and waned, but the pull of home is strong and a new generation of Italians are returning to continue the tradition of good food, generosity and, most of all, community.
Among them is Dolcetto Patisserie’s Joe Magri. Joe’s Sicilian parents immigrated to Australia for a better life and ended up settling in North Perth. “There wasn’t much work in Catania, so they moved here,” says Joe, who was born in Australia soon after. He caught the baking bug while on holiday in Sicily, working in a cousin’s patisserie. “I was 14 years old, and here we are today,” says Joe. Opening Dolcetto two years ago, Joe’s specialties are handmade, delicate Sicilian biscuits, as well as Aussie favourites such as lemon meringue pie.
Just a stone’s throw away is Pimlott & Strand, a new deli cafe. “We combine the best of a continental deli with a kitchen out the back,” says Tony Armenti, who readily admits his wife, Lina, is the brains behind the alimentari-cum-cafe. Fancy pasta, soft saporini (a northern Italian white mould cheese) and various smallgoods line the shelves, while quality produce, including perfectly ripe Genoa figs, are sourced from Lina’s father’s farm. Although less than a year old, the cafe is already popular due to its Mediterranean-style brunches.
Of the many cafes that line Angove Street, Fiorentina’s purple facade stands out. Inside is a stunning display overflowing with cakes and pastries. Owner Isidoro Messina’s Sicilian father bought and ran the business from 1989 to 2001. Isidoro bought back the family business in 2009. “I still see some of my father’s customers, but most have passed away,” he says. “But the next generation is now buying from us. We sell baptism cakes, birthday cakes and engagement cakes. Then they have kids and on it goes. It’s an incredible business.”
Vastese Bakery is one of the last remaining traditional Italian bakeries in Perth. Now managed by brothers Tony and Lou Saraceni, it opened in 1957 and was named after their father’s hometown of Vasto. The bakery has been in its current location for 51 years, producing crusty Abruzzo-style bread. “We used to live above the bakery,” says Tony. The bread is still made the old way, beneath the former home. “Long fermentation is what gives it flavour and texture,” Tony says.
The iconic Princi M & M Butchers has occupied the same shop since Pasquale Princi’s uncle opened its doors in the 1970s. The shop is still much the same, selling meat cut to order and seasonal sausages such as cotechino. “My uncle was like a dad. He gave us a chance. When you have a foundation like that, it’s up to you to build your own destiny,” explains Pasquale, who immigrated from Calabria in 1979 and, at the age of 13, followed the family tradition into butchery. “And I’ve loved every minute of it!” he adds.
Pasquale, his uncle Michele, brother Giuseppe and brother-in-law Frank are all butchers. They know every customer that comes in to the store, some speaking the southern dialect. There’s a lot of backslapping and gossip about cars, wine and food. “We’ve been in the game for so long. We run a family business, so we work hard for it. You do it with passion and you do it for love,” says Pasquale.