Interview by Vanessa Deeg with Claudia Spiteri, owner of Eataly Café.
So, Claudia, you’re Italian?
C: I am. My mother and father are both from Italy.
V: What part of Italy?
C: My parents come from, its called Abruzzi, that would be the province they’re from. My mother comes from a small town, Torre di Passere. My dad is from the more mountainous region, more farmland. It’s Isola di GranSasso. My dad was 19 when he moved here. My mother was born in Italy, but she came here when she was one. So, she was raised here.
V: Tell me about your visits there.
C: Well, I was nine when I went there for the first time. …It was very impression-ing. It was nice. We spent a lot of time at my dad’s side of the family, in the mountains. It’s just gorgeous. When I was there it was July / August. So the were harvesting and baling hay. Watching the people farming was amazing. I had never seen anything like that.
V: Yeah, nothing like the farming here, with huge tractors and combines.
C: No. It’s amazing that they get up first thing in the morning and they go with their little picnic baskets and they stop for a picnic wherever they are. It was just totally different than what I had ever expected. Going to my mom’s side was wonderful too. They’re more on the Adriatic Sea. On the Adriadic we were able to have fresh fish everyday. We didn’t do a lot of sight seeing, and I didn’t get to Rome or anything, because I was nine.
V: But you travelled with your husband to Italy quite a bit, didn’t you?
C: I came back with Tony. We had an opportunity to go through his work, and we were able to tour a lot of Italy and visit my grandmother.
V: So, would you say that is what inspired you?
C: I’ve been to a lot of different cafes when we were in Italy. I loved the fact that they were outdoors. Yeah, like a piazza, and you sit outside and have your coffee and your dolce. And yeah, I thought this is great. This is what I want to do. Would it ever go in Port Colborne? I don’t know.
V: How long did you have a dream like this?
C: You know what….. I’ve been, I’m going to say I’ve been working on it for four or five years. Thinking about what I want to do and how I’m going to do it. I was thinking just a café at first. I knew I wanted to do it inPort Colborne, I knew I wanted to move back. And coming back I heard a lot of people saying they missed my Aunt’s deli. My Aunt used to own Mianni’s.
V: Ohh! That was a great deli!
C: Yeah, and I thought you know what – why not put the two together and see what happens?
V: Yes, it’s a great concept, because now you don’t have to rely just on coffee sales, but people can come in to get their groceries as well.
V: So, what made you decide you wanted to move back to Port Colborne? You were living in Calgary?
C: Calgary for the past three years, but we’ve been away for the past twelve. First we were in Victoria, B.C. for two, and then we were in Edmonton for seven, and then Calgary three. And then we came back to Niagara. Like I said before, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. We knew we were going to go away, but eventually come back. Our parents are getting older. We come home every summer and that was the only time the kids get to see their grandparents. I said to Tony if we’re going to move them back, we should do it before Francesca (her oldest daughter) starts high school. It’s going to be more difficult as the kids get older. So that’s what we did, we packed up and came home.
V: Are you here to stay?
C: Yeah, this is it. I love it here. Tony was talking about finding work out here.
He used to work in Toronto, for Maple Leaf. Most likely a job will open up out of town. So we thought of moving to a big city, but we didn’t want to do it. I don’t want to live in a big city. We want to raise the kids here. So we wanted to come back to Port Colborne where we were raised. And I wanted to do this and here we have the support of our family. We wouldn’t have that if we were in Calgary.
V: What do you love about Port Colborne?
C: I love then fact it is a small community and I love the fact that I know a lot of the people in the community and I have a lot of family here. You know, it’s different, how can I say it. Like in Victoria, people, I don’t want to say they’re cold, but they kept to themselves more, whereas I find everybody here is very friendly.
V: (Chuckle), Yeah, people are waving on the street.
C: Yeah, but even in here. Look at the people in here. They’ll know somebody sitting there, and it gets loud. On Saturday mornings I sit back and look at everybody, and I think, this is amazing. You know so and so is talking to somebody and then they’re over at the next table saying hi to one another, and people are meeting one another for coffee. … and it gets loud and you can’t here the music, but its okay, its great.
V: There’s a real sense of community here, it’s great. It reminds me of a get together in the church basement, where all the neighbors and friends are meeting and talking and laughing together.
So, I asked you a bit about Port Colborne, and why you chose to come here, but what about Niagara as a whole, is there anything about Niagara specifically that draws you here?
C: You know what, it is so central. You know Niagara, you’ve got Niagara Falls twenty minutes away. You’ve got St. Catharine’s twenty minutes away. You’ve got the border to go to the States, that’s twenty minutes away. Its nice, because everything is right here. And we have one of the seven wonders of the world here. It’s a beautiful area. You’ve got wine country in Niagara-on-the-Lake. Everything is just right close to us.
V: Tell me a little bit about your love of food. You have amazing food and some great picks in your store. Where did you first begin your love of food?
C: Well, you know what?, it started ever since I was a child. I’ve always loved food. My grandmother raised me because my mom and dad worked full time, so I used to spend a lot of time with my grandmother. We would always tease my mother saying she could never cook like my grandmother. My grandmother was the ultimate cook. My grandmother passed away and now my mom is going to step in.
V: So, you were in the basement cooking with Nonna?
C: Yeah, you know we would wake up from naps and smell the aroma of whatever it was she was cooking that day. Everyday she cooked from scratch. Making her own pasta, and making her own sauce. Everything centered around food. Everything centered around the kitchen. When we had guests, we didn’t go to the living room and sit down on the couch. We would entertain in the kitchen. So, it was always at the kitchen table, and that’s where we were always talking to everybody. And there was always food and wine. We always had music playing in the background.
V: Lots of family.
C: Yeah, and that’s the feeling that I wanted here. I wanted everybody to just talk and be around the table.
V: Are you planning on getting wine?
C: We thought about it. We were toying with the idea of having beer and wine, but one of two things. We want to have some tables outside.
V: …oh, and then you’d have to have a gate.
C: Yes, and I also didn’t want it to hinder any parents bringing their kids in.
Now, I know I didn’t look into it in a great deal, but a lot of establishments have to have it separated, the area you serve alcohol in. I don’t know how that would work in here. But, this is just our first location.
V: Yes, its very different from Italy, where the café is open to the street. People drinking wine right on the street. (she smiles in agreement).
So, Claudia, I don’t know if this is an esoteric question, but what is your food philosophy? What makes you passionate about what you do?
C: You know what, I find that food makes people happy and it makes them comfortable, and as long as my food does that I’m happy. Yeah, you know just making people happy. Have people coming in and asking me if I have any favorite recipes. Being on Facebook, I have people asking if there is anything new, telling them to come in and try this or that. I think people are looking for that, for new ideas and new products. So, now that our website is online too. We’re going to start a contest, to submit a recipe that uses a lot of our products. It’s about trying to get people to enjoy what they’re doing. Instead of just cooking because you have cook and you have to eat. There’s a lot to say about enjoying the cooking part of it.
V: Yeah, those David Rocco cookbooks you had just flew off the shelves.
C: Yes, they did. And I can’t get anymore of them. We’re looking into another supplier, but we have to get more in.
V: I’ve never seen Port Colborne like this. It’s so nice to have Eataly here to enjoy.
C: Its amazing.
V: How did you come up with the name Eataly?
C: My daughter, Francesca, came actually thought of it. She was 8 or 9 at the time. Every Friday night Tony and I would make homemade pizzas with the kids. Tony used to work at Albertos down the street (Pizza Parlor) and he would say when we would move back we were going to open a pizzeria. He would ask the kids what they would name the different pizzas and the pizzeria. Eataly being one of them and Tony said “oh, I like that”. So, being the marketing guy that he is, we registered that name and we gave it to her for her birthday. So, we said you might not know what this means right now, but this is what we’re going to do, and we have the rights to this name. We trademarked it across Canada as well.
V: Wow, what a neat story, she must be so proud.
C: Yes, she is upset with me because I don’t have a sandwich named after her, but I have one after my brother. No, she’s really good. I keep telling her she’s going to be in marketing like her dad.
V: So, we all know its really risky opening a business. Lots of long hours and risk for you personally and for your family. So, what do you think makes Eataly such a success and what keeps you motivated during the long hours?
C: Ahh, You know what, like I touched on before, just doing things that make people happy. Giving people what they want, what they’re looking for.
V: Food has a bit of magic to it, when you serve them and it fills them.
C: Yeah, when you hand them a cappuccino with a heart on it, and they go ahh. (She laughs). Doing the presentation part of it, and seeing people’s reactions, that makes me want to keep doing it.
V: Do you have any big plans coming up?
C: Well, this is our first location, and we would like to expand. We’re looking at different areas in Niagara. We’d like a bigger location, so that we can have a walk-in freezer and walk-in cooler in the back, which we don’t have now. I’d like to have a kitchen so that I can prepare the food, and send it to other locations.
Maybe even an area where we can do the wine and the beer.
V: Well, that sounds great. It was great meeting with you today, Claudia. I wish you all the best with Eataly and I hope it keeps growing.
C: Thank you.
For additional pictures of Cafe Eataly with location and hours check out: