Raffaele: A passion for food.
Lello started out in the business when he was just 14 years old and by the age of 21 he was already running a restaurant as ‘Maitre’ in a popular holiday resort in Cuba!
“I started out when my brother got me a job in a local restaurant in Naples when I was 14 years old and I then signed up to Hotel and Catering School. In Italy, being a waiter is a serious profession and it is also relatively well paid. You have to be knowledgeable not just about food and wine but you also have to have a certain flair for hospitality and making people feel welcome and looked after”.
After passing all of his exams and effectively ‘qualifying’ as you do in Italy, Lello was recruited on to the Italian holiday circuit doing beach resorts in the summer and ski resorts in the winter. This took him to all of the most glamorous resorts in Italy. “I did this for about 7 years and I spent quite a bit of time in Sardinia in particular which is probably the most exclusive of summer destination for Italians. This is where I met Laura, my lovely wife who is native from the island”.
After his Cuban experience Lello, this time together with Laura (who is a trained chef in her own right by the way!), both came to sunny England where they worked together at Ciao Italia in Knutsford. He then worked at San Rocco in Hale and later he worked at Piccolino in Knutsford for 7 years where he became General Manager.
Lello confesses that “it was at Piccolino where I really developed and it is thanks to the people of Knutsford for all of their support over the years. One of the customers at Piccolino was Marco Dellapina, a local solicitor. He too came from a restaurant background with his father Pietro, still running his own restaurant at the age of 70, ‘Il Cucciolo’ in London’s Piccadilly Circus. Marco and I used to have big conversations about food and restaurants and it was clear straight away that we shared the same passion for Italian food and the same idea about how best Italian food should be portrayed. Marco came up with the idea of opening something which would be authentically Italian; as he put it, actually lifting something ‘as it is’ out of Italy and literally dropping it in the middle of Knutsford! This is how Via Via Delicatessen was first conceived. There would be no compromise on quality; only the very best Italy had to offer would be imported into our Deli. Whatever you can eat or drink in a top Italian restaurant in Italy would be made available in our Deli. It would be like being in Italy but without the weather. All products and wines are imported every week from Italy including the ‘pachino’ cherry tomatoes and the bell peppers which come fresh from the island of Sicily every week. You can really taste the sun in them! Even the background music is live radio from Italy!”
After two years of meticulous planning together also with Loris Fargnoli and Max Eaton, our other partners, Via Via was finally launched in March 2008. “Many people still find it difficult to understand what we are all about: Is it a coffee shop? Is it a Delicatessen? Is it a Restaurant? Is it a Wine Bar? Is it a Bistro? It is all and at the same time it is none of those things really. I suppose it is a new concept in England or at least in the North West. I think the best way to describe it would be a Deli/Bar like the ones you have in Italy. A place you can go to just to sip a glass of vintage wine with a few taster dishes (a bit like tapas but Italian of course) or you can just come and have a cup of coffee and read the papers and watch the world go by or you can have a full blown 5 course meal complete with live Italian jazz music on a Saturday night.
Essentially, it is a place for people who not only love Italian food and wine but also love Italy. This is why we have also introduced Italian language classes on Monday evenings and we also have a cookery school which is held at Knutsford Sports Club on Tuesday evenings; we have wine tasting evenings and all sorts of other events going on every month. This is a place for all of the family and we cater for everyone and to suit all budgets, to summarize it ‘just like in Italy’.”
Via Via is now one of Knutsford finest restaurants, boasting an authentic and rustic dining experience with an atmosphere to match.