Italian friends who established a slice of home in Wales and continued to grow
When you enter the Gelateria de Calabrisella on Cardiff Cowbridge Road East, it is not hard to imagine that you are on an Italian promenade.
It’s unmistakably a modern Italian, with an image of Reggio di Calabria’s waterfront – the Il Lungomare – covering a wall and even floor tiles to match the actual walkway as well as chic tables and chairs and, well sure, the padded counter full of homemade ice cream in as many flavors as you want. You can read our first Calabrisella review, here.
Read more : What to do in Canton: what to eat, drink, stay and visit in the trendy suburb of Cardiff
But what makes this place even more special, and the sister restaurants near Canton and across the Taff in Cathays, is the humble love that the founders, Salvatore Vara, Angelo De Meo and Domenico Ventura, of Calabrisella have for Wales and the communities they reside.
Yes, they wear their Italian football tops when their country is playing, even against Wales as happened a few weeks ago, but you will also see the Welsh dragon adorning their store, and their loyal Cantonese clientele is made up of Welsh diners who love their pizzas and pastas, coffees and cakes.
Not bad for a fresh-faced 18-year-old couple who came to the UK to learn English for a few weeks 15 years ago.
Salvatore, who runs the house, their social networks and enjoys chatting with people, speaks most of the time and has retained his strong Calabrian accent, says the three friends have known each other since they were 10 or 11 years old. and Angelo arrived in the UK in 2006, their plan was never to end up in Cardiff, and that only happened after a chance meeting at a train station in Rome.
“We just finished high school and we also worked together during the summer seasons in Tuscany,” he says, professing he’s now half Welsh because he’s three years younger than he is one older. much of his life in Wales. “We decided to come to UK to learn English and that’s it, we thought we would come here, learn English, go back to Italy after a few months and continue our career.”
A simple plan fueled by the bravery of the young turned out to be an epic journey – with a few bumps along the way.
“We do not know [why Cardiff]”Salvo added.” I said to my dad, ‘we’re going to go to the UK.’ He said, ‘do you have a job?’ No I said.
“‘Do you speak english?’ No. “Do you have a house?” No, he said. “Why do you want to go there?
“I said because we do, we will go for a week, if we don’t like it, we will come back to Italy. We were 18, we had to try. But then we found a job, we found a good community and we started our life.
“At school, when you study UK, it’s all ‘London London London’,” Salvo adds.
“I remember we took the train to Rome, our whole family was in the station, it was like we were going to war, 50 people were crying in the station. Now you Internet, you can make a video call, then there was nothing.
“When we got to Rome, a guy saw us and asked us where we were going, and he knew a guy in UK, so he gave us his number and said ‘come on, try it. “”
A £ 200 taxi to Victoria National Express Station later they arrived in Cardiff.
“It was a rugby day, an autumn International, we thought that every day had to be like that, crazy! It was really difficult to find a hotel that night. Our first experience was not not bad, but we didn’t speak english at all, we tried to find a guest room or apartment and ended up going to the dentist.
“We were looking through the book trying to find the words and they thought we were looking for a dentist,” Salvo recalls.
“We were very young,” adds Angelo, who grew up helping his parents cook and make pasta and ice cream at the restaurant they worked at home. “We finally found a guest room and it was £ 700 each!” he added. “There were four of us too.
“We knew the UK was expensive. Back then the euro was 1.70 to the pound.”
They soon discovered that they enjoyed living and working in Cardiff, both as waiters or in the kitchens of some of the city’s most recognizable Italian places. Gio’s, Giovanni’s La Boheme, San Martino – but, as it was their long-term plan, the two wanted to open their own venue offering a different kind of Italian experience, a place where customers could have their breakfast, grab coffee and cake, then return for dinners of homemade pizza, pasta, and seafood specialties.
“When you work in different places you choose different things and understand what people like and what is missing. That’s why we opened Calabrisella to do something different. Sometimes it’s a bit expensive to go. in an Italian restaurant you order two starters two pasta, bottle of wine, it can cost around £ 60, and we were like ‘why do we have to spend so much?’
“Even with quality ingredients, you don’t have to spend that much. Customers want to come here and eat something special. We also need to be able to offer them that, as well as breakfast, coffee, croissants, lunch, dinner.
When they opened Calabrisella on Canton’s main street, they reunited with their childhood friend, Domenico, who is the chef.
He has cooked all over the world, including Japan and Australia.
Three years after opening Calabrisella, the trio set up their pizza van, which traveled across Wales and the UK to make their Calabrian pizza at events such as the Pizza & Prosecco festivals and then in 2019 they opened a second restaurant in the heart of the student district of Cathays and now, earlier this year, Calabrisella Gelateria was born.
Their clients are locals but also Cardiff Italians and tourists.
Love is definitely mutual, says Salvo, who has a beautiful romantic reason to look fondly on the Welsh capital. He married and had a son here, with his wife Elaria who grew up minutes from him in Reggio di Calabria, but they only met in Cardiff, when she came to study.
The importance of family and community is common between Italy and Wales.
Salvo said: “I think the Welsh look at the Italians with a lot of respect and vice versa.
“A few weeks ago [for the match] we were in Italian shirts, but we had the Welsh flag and we are in Canton so we support Cardiff City. Of course we are Italians, but Wales is our home away from home.
“We’re part of the community now, I feel like part of the Canton community now, sometimes I walk in Canton and it’s like walking in Reggio, saying hello and it’s fantastic. I was at the airport. , I think with my father and I say hello to about thirty people, he said: “Are we in Italy?
“It’s a really good thing. In my experience Wales are fantastic, the Welsh are really friendly and I think they are really proud. “
And, not only that, he loves the way the Welsh line up.
Salvo said: “Respect for people, the way they respect the city, the way they queue, everything works, it’s a lovely city. It’s amazing, when you queue in Italy, it ‘crazy.”
But his queue respect has admirable significance. “The queue is respect for another person, for the other,” he laughs.
So what’s the secret to their success?
“We understand each other and we have never had a problem. We trust each other and that is the main thing. Our mindset and our goals – we all like to work hard. The vision we have for business is really similar. arrived in Cardiff we knew we were going to do something, open a shop. Even though Domenico, he came later, he had the same idea. A business partnership and a friendship is like the relationship with your woman, you have to talk to each other all the time. “
You can find out more about the restaurants in Calabrisella, here.