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Pizzeria Italia To Be Re-invented

The oldest continuously running city centre Italian to shine again?

Published on August 30th 2012.


Pizzeria Italia To Be Re-invented

ON 31 December 1977 Manchester gained an Italian restaurant called Pizzeria Italia.

He's also going to play with the decor he's inherited. Underneath the tat there's a 1970 museum piece. 

It's still there called Rustica now, and can claim to be the oldest continuously trading Italian restaurant in the city centre.

Presently run by the ancient Manchester Italian family of Cabrelli, it's soon to undergo refurbishment from local businessman Franco Sotgiu. If the latter name is familiar, Sotgiu has recently helped set up with his brother Dom, the very interesting Solita in the Northern Quarter.

With the Rustica site Sotgiu is keen to develop a model he feels can succeed elsewhere. This is a trial in a way as the 1972 former office block that hosts the restaurant is due for redevelopment. 

As the place presently looks, the main image at the top of the page is a CGI of how it should look after the changesAs the place presently looks, the main image at the top of the page is a CGI of how it should look after the changes

Ask the old timers and Pizzeria Italia was a regional destination back in the seventies and early eighties. People came from across the North West and footy stars and Corrie acts thronged in.

Think the San Carlo crowd but looking like an episode of Life on Mars: folk in beige suits, wing collars and extravagantly printed frocks marvelling at spaghetti bolognese. I bet some people have memories they'd like to share in the rants below.

1970s shock-chic in there1970s shock-chic in there

In Rustica it's still 1977.

Aside from the odd lick of paint here and there, usually ill-advised, the place in both decor and menu has never moved on. I slaughtered it back in 2007 for being grubby and crazily old-fashioned with terrible food. Not retro just geriatric.

But as Franco says, "It's got one of the best locations in the city, and if we improve the decor and change the menu completely then it should work again. On one Saturday night in the seventies the 190 cover restaurant served 1370 people. If we do this right then I think we can become popular again, maybe not that popular, but still make a mark."

He has a point, the restaurant is just down from Marks and Spencer on the Deansgate/Blackfriars Street junction and over the road from the phenomenally busy Red Hot World Buffet - half a million customers in 2011. Franco wants to be mainstream, not fine dining, so he hopes to drag in some of the latter's clients.

"Listen, Pizzeria Italia, was all about the family, they were the first to give the kids lollies as they left, the manager knew everybody's name, the kids had crayons. It was smiles all round for every customer. I want that back," says Franco. 

He's also going to play with the decor he's inherited. Underneath the tat there's a 1970 museum piece. The marble details, brick arches, fabulous double height windows in the upper room, mad canopies and awful but utterly of its time formica in the gents, all have a certain charm. If he cuts back to the good details, has a laugh with some of the more extreme fittings, then he could be on to a winner in terms of distinctive decor.

Oh my God, look at that formicaOh my God, look at that formica

The food will determine whether the place really shines and from antipasta boards shaped like Italy to Fiorentina T-bones, via raviola aperta, swordfish, spaghetti gamberi limone arugala, courgette fritters and gelato ice cream made on the premises he has ambitions to deliver the goods. Everyday there'll also be a homemade pasta dish.

Given that the neighbour, the Renaissance Hotel serves breakfasts at £18 a shot, Sotgiu's also going to be offering an equivalent for way less than half that price.

The final change will be the name. Rustica's going, and Pizzeria is being dropped from the original. 

"It's just going to be Italia," says Sotgiu, who is Sardinian in background. "Straightforward and direct. Very honest. Reasonably priced. Lively."

You can follow progress here @ItaliaMCR

You can follow Jonathan Schofield on Twitter here @JonathSchofield

Grand double-height upper room waiting to be knocked into shape

Grand double-height upper room waiting to be knocked into shape

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52 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Hungry HossAugust 30th 2012.

Great piece - really looking forward to another 'decent' Italian in the city. There are too many dodgy ones and Franco's plans sound perfect.

Back to the old school! Good food and good times!

2 Responses: Reply To This...
Gary BaldyNovember 2nd 2012.

This comment has been deemed inappropriate by editorial staff, and has been removed.

JonnyJanuary 8th 2013.

The name Italia for a place that for 35 YEARS was named Pizzeria Italia is certainly no coincidence regardless of how generic the name is. The fact is im not too bothered because regardless of all the publicity and tweets the fact remains that Marco failed miserably with RUSTICA and every time I have been past ITALIA it is either empty or there are a handful of people in there. Parasites rarely win!

Andrew LeachAugust 30th 2012.

Lets hope it's good : while we're here who remembers 'Bella Napoli ' and Isola Bella' ? with their shared toilets , after a heavy session on the Chianti one could be forgiven for walking into the wrong restaurant( after using the toilets ) and being directed back from where your partner was waiting .. Please give us a good honest Italian restaurant with out too much razzamataz ..

AnonymousAugust 30th 2012.

Looks like they should make the upstairs room the main dining room

1 Response: Reply To This...
Gary BaldyNovember 2nd 2012.

This comment has been deemed inappropriate by editorial staff, and has been removed.

Hero
RevaulxAugust 30th 2012.

Bella Napoli and Isola Bella were great. As was Coco's. Pizzeria Italia's food wasn't great on my last visit (c1993), but it was more than adequate and compensated for by the staff's child-friendliness.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Gary BaldyNovember 2nd 2012.

This comment has been deemed inappropriate by editorial staff, and has been removed.

Hero
RevaulxAugust 30th 2012.

How long has Cesare's on South King Street been going? I'm sure it was around in 1977

3 Responses: Reply To This...
San RoccoAugust 30th 2012.

Cesare opened in 1971 and we changed the name to San Rocco quite a few years ago now, but we are still going on South King Street

San Rocco

crisbySeptember 20th 2012.

I always enjoy San Rocco, the food's OK and it's much more relaxing than San Carlo; you don't get footballers, there isn't a 'look how Italian we are' floorshow, yet somehow it's more authentic even if most of the staff aren't Italian.

AnonymousDecember 17th 2012.

I heard that it's gone downhill since the head chef retired?

Andrew LeachAugust 30th 2012.

Cesare's that's a good call , must try it again , didn't know it was still going

Lorraine ByrneAugust 30th 2012.

I think we're going to be over-dosing with Italian restaurants soon - with ASK opening on King Street, that area should be renamed Restaurant Square!

Andrew NickeasAugust 30th 2012.

Had fantastic times at Pizzeria Italia, with Umberto the manager and a certain Entore who now at Piccolinos is the best front of house and restaurant manager in the city !

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousMay 14th 2013.

Ettore is by far the No 1 front of house manager in Manchester !

Rachel ParkinsonAugust 30th 2012.

This brings back memories, my first date in Manchester was at Pizzeria Italia back in 1990. My favourite Italian restaurant though was Paolo's near the town hall, I remember staggering up those stairs after many a birthday/christmas/year end celebration.

1 Response: Reply To This...
JonnyJanuary 8th 2013.

The name Italia for a place that for 35 YEARS was named Pizzeria Italia is certainly no coincidence regardless of how generic the name is. The fact is im not too bothered because regardless of all the publicity and tweets the fact remains that Marco failed miserably with RUSTICA and every time I have been past ITALIA it is either empty or there are a handful of people in there. Parasites rarely win!

Tracey NewellAugust 30th 2012.

Does anyone remember Vertigo being Roman's oh my the cannelloni was the best!

1 Response: Reply To This...
Hero
RevaulxAugust 31st 2012.

Romans? God, I remember when it was Rare Records...

AnonymousAugust 30th 2012.

Just please please please!! keep the original lasagne recipe it is the best ever and keeps my childhood memories of coming into the city alive!!!

srp973August 30th 2012.

And the Coppa Danimarka ice-cream.........

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousAugust 30th 2012.

Oh yes please...... Now Im hungry.

Deanna ThomasAugust 30th 2012.

I went there every Saturday with my mum for lunch for years. Every single time I would order spaghetti bolognaise which was better than anywhere else. (I've sinced worked out the secret ingredient.) It was also the first place I discovered real Parmesan as opposed to the stinky powdered toe cheese you used to get in tubs in the 80's. I used to ask the waiters to sprinkle it on in a layer about an inch thick.

Ghostly TomAugust 30th 2012.

It was Pizzeria Italia that got me hooked on Italian food. It was a great restaurant in its day. Am glad it's coming back and pleased that it will be a tryout for the new concept. Hopefully it will succeed and then can be moved to another premises in the city. I wish the business well but that building in on my list of blots that I want removing from the city. Please apply for a full list!

1 Response: Reply To This...
Hero
RevaulxAugust 31st 2012.

Have a look at books.google.co.uk/books… to see what was there pre-blot.

Marion HunterAugust 30th 2012.

This was a special place for us in the 1980's. Our daughters, now 37 and 40 used to love to go there and a special treat was to invite some friends to a party. They loved to see the chefs preparing the dough and all the waiters were so friendly. Happiest memories are of a group of them standing up at the table to eat from a tall glass filled with delicious ice cream!

AnonymousAugust 30th 2012.

Hope it keeps the same family friendly aptmosphere it has always had, its lovely to take my kids where I loved going as a kid, not many good quality family friendly places left in Manchester city centre.

1 Response: Reply To This...
Clive 'Mad'August 31st 2012.

Are you mad? There are more than there ever were. Do you ever eat out at all.

AnonymousAugust 30th 2012.

The ultimate YAFI

Cor OnaAugust 30th 2012.

I'll take that as a compliment;)

1 Response: Reply To This...
AnonymousSeptember 2nd 2012.

It wasn't meant as one.

Cor Ona shared this on Facebook on August 30th 2012.
pollolocoAugust 31st 2012.

Fond memories of Romans and Paulos...anyone remember Enzo's...in a basement?

David AddisonAugust 31st 2012.

The original Cesare was really good, but I went to San Rocco last week and it was awful it really is a tired place now , the waiters seem uninterested and the menu hasn't changed in years, I went to the Olive Press two days later and it was really good .
Does anybody remember an Italian in Manchester called Via Venetto? It was near Brambles night club?
Pizza Italian used to be the place to go on a Saturday people used to start queuing for tables from 11-30am and the Manager would open the doors at 12 ,it was full by ten past! I don't think you can compare it tonSan Carlos now though.
Manchester Memories, Sammy Blacks anyone?,the original Rajdoot? I think Confidential should do an article on the history of Manchester restaurants, it would make for interesting reading.

Nathan BrownAugust 31st 2012.

Pizzeria Italia - firm family favourite from years gone by... Still go Rustica every now and the. For some Spaghetti or their Calzones, Long Live Pizzeria Italia

Poster BoyAugust 31st 2012.

Pizzeria Italia, Isola Bella, even Leonis for its fantastic Calzone, and Cocos for its original flamboyance. Long live the trattoria -upright wooden chairs, red chequer paper 'tablecloths', proper service and modest, but great food and wine.
You can keep yer modern day Italian-themed chain restaurants. No names obviously...

Jamie DeakinSeptember 1st 2012.

I good read that write up. The place has been outdated for a while but has always offered value for money which people don't get in a lot of Manchester restaurants. I like the Formica for some reason, though I wish the owners the best with the change. As for Cocos, that place is missed in the centre. I would love to see an Italian bakery making fresh breads and pasta in the centre, it would be a goldmine.

Cor OnaSeptember 2nd 2012.

Watch this space, we have big plans for the bread section.

RobbsySeptember 2nd 2012.

happy memories of this place - one of my mother's favourites and always felt like stepping back into simpler, less-pretentious times... I never realised that there was an upstairs section though!

fingers crossed it will prove to be something other than YAFI

I miss the Terrazza, even the short-lived Sannino's (great pizza and the best garlic mushrooms in town!)

AnonymousSeptember 2nd 2012.

Carluccios in Spinningfields make fresh foccaccia every day as well as fresh Ravioli...its not gonna win any michelin stars but its good value food done with minimum fuss...definitely gonna check this place out though. Took my dad there years ago and had a great pizza

David in CheshireSeptember 3rd 2012.

In 1977 or so, a friend and I tried every single pizza place in the city, over a few months. Pizzaria Italia was by far our favourite and I stuck with it for the next 30 years. The Pizza Calabrese was my all time favourite pizza anywhere.

Cantata Choir at Manchester Cathedral just about adopted the place - on the evening of a concert it would be half full of fellow choir members grabbing a meal between rehearsal and concert.

They also had a smaller restaurant in a basement to the side of Albert Square - same food. I once bought three pizzas for takeaway to share with my wife, but she could only manage one, so I ate two of them.

We tried going after it changed to Rustica, but the food was different. Not terrible, but no longer the same, giving us no reason to pick it ahead of other italians.

Come on, reinstate the Pizza Calabrese and I'll be there like a shot.

Hero
tomtSeptember 10th 2012.

Back in the 80s, I used to go once a month with my Mum, Dad & brother to Pizzeria Italia, like clockwork. I remember the old red & white tablecloths, the pizza dough being thrown around, and I will never forget this is the restaurant I learned the lesson that putting your cutlery together means you're done (when you disappear to the loo and come back to an empty table setting you never forget it as a 5 year old). The place was always rammed full, and the noise of the full house always sticks in my mind.
I can't remember many other places we went as a family because my parents split up when I was 6, so this place always brings back nice memories (except the cutlery incident above!).

1 Response: Reply To This...
Cor OnaSeptember 12th 2012.

I've got a tear in my eye reading this...

Cor OnaSeptember 12th 2012.

Thanks for all the comments, our intention is to bring back the restaurant back to its former glory. if you would like to come to a preview night and see what we have planned please email me at info@italiamanchester.co.uk
Thanks
Franco

FrancescoDecember 7th 2012.

IT MUST ME MADE ABSOLUTELY CLEAR THAT SOME PEOPLE SEEM TO BE UNDER THE MISUNDERSTANDING THAT THIS RESTAURANT HAS A CONNECTION TO THE ORIGINAL PIZZERIA. IT IS ABSOLUTE FACT THAT THE CURRENT OWNERS HAVE ZERO CONNECTION TO THE ORIGINAL OWNWRS AND, HAVE IN FACT, MADE THE NAME AS CLOSE AS POSSIBLE TO ITS OLD NAME IN AN AUDACIOUS ATTEMPT TO FOOL THE OLD LOYAL CUSTOMERS. ABSOLUTE FACT

2 Responses: Reply To This...
avoDecember 8th 2012.

Perhaps the new owners may have wanted to adopt a no nonsense approach to naming their restaurant and wanted people to know what type of food they served...

GordoDecember 27th 2012.

Francesco, the Name Italia is very generic for an Italian restaurant. The problem would arise if Franco Sotgiu and the other owners were trying to pass themselves off as the old restaurant. Which, it has to be said, was very poor in its final days. I wouldn't get over excited if I were you.

David in CheshireDecember 24th 2012.

Well, we finally got to Italia yesterday and were not disappointed. The owners might have no connection with the old business, but some of the waiting staff have returned. We only tried the pizza - it was not the same as before (too much to hope) but it was good enough for us to want to return.

The loos remain resolutely un-refurbished, BTW. That's a real connection with the old days.

JonnyJanuary 8th 2013.

The name Italia for a place that for 35 YEARS was named Pizzeria Italia is certainly no coincidence regardless of how generic the name is. The fact is im not too bothered because regardless of all the publicity and tweets the fact remains that Marco failed miserably with RUSTICA and every time I have been past ITALIA it is either empty or there are a handful of people in there. Parasites rarely win!

martin0475June 14th 2013.

having worked in pizzeria italia around 20yrs ago I would suggest that the Italian food offered nowadays is by far a different level and pls don't mention the hygiene issues they used to have.....start being realistic not romantic....the place died out for a reason!!!

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