Nearing its half century on the popular strip, Papa Gino’s is a Lygon Street mainstay and its recipes and family spirit have been handed down through the generations.
The restaurant has been recognised in this year’s Lord Mayor’s Commendations, acknowledging the contribution the family has made to our city over the years.
When Gino and Silvana Brosca met working in a northern Italian bar, there was no way of telling that hospitality would be the genesis and heart of the family they would go on to create.
‘Food and serving people runs deep for the Broscas,’ Gino and Silvana’s son and Papa Gino’s owner, Alex Brosca said.
‘Mum and Dad met working in a bar and every generation of our family since has been involved in this business in some way, shape or form.’
‘All the kids and grandkids do a stint at Papa Gino’s as an after school or part-time uni job.
‘Some of them – like me and my siblings – stay on full-time, and some go on to other things.
‘Everyone always comes back for a good feed and to hang out with the family. There’s never a shortage of aunts or uncles here at Papa Gino’s.’
Gino and Silvana came to Australia in 1957 with just a couple of kids in tow at that stage.
‘At first they settled in regional towns, but a few of dad’s mates from his hometown started up Australia’s first pizza restaurant, Toto’s, and enticed him to the big smoke,’ Alex said.
This was in the late 1960s, when Lygon Street was far from the cultural zeitgeist it was to become.
‘There were about 10 milk bars and just as many fish and chip shops.
‘Us kids knocked around in the park playing footy and cricket with other locals, and that’s how we found out about 221 Lygon Street.
‘By then, Mum and Dad had moved on from Toto’s and started their own venture – Naples Bay – but were looking for a new location.
‘One of our footy mates mentioned his dad was selling a hamburger joint, and Papa Gino’s was born – I think they paid just $5000.’
Alex, the younger of Gino and Silvana’s five kids, and just 10 when the family took it on, remembers fondly those early days of the restaurant.
‘We all pitched in. In those days you had to slice the olives, separate the anchovies by hand. That was my job,’ said Alex.
But don’t think it has quashed his love of salty delicacies.
‘My favourite dish is still the napoletana – simple but delicious – olives, anchovies and basil.’
After a steady apprenticeship in the family business, Alex was on his way to a degree in photography when Papa Gino had a quiet word.
‘It didn’t take long for dad to convince me, and I’ve been here ever since.
‘Mum worked right up to the age of 84 as our head chef. She’d stroll down from our family home on Drummond Street and get to work. She’s very happy to pass the baton to us kids these days.’
When asked what sets them apart, Alex says it’s the sense of family.
‘When we started, we were one of only a handful of pizza restaurants in the city, and we became a popular eating spot for neighbourhood locals and Melbourne University academics,’ Alex said.
‘We’re still serving the locals, despite the demographics changing somewhat.
‘A lot of the faithfuls we still welcome by name, and we enjoy meeting new students as they make Carlton their home each year.
‘There have been so many changes since we opened in 1973. I’ve seen the CBD and Carlton go from a sleepy quiet suburb to a thriving bustling city.
‘COVID has of course had a huge impact on our business as well as surrounding businesses.
‘We are a university suburb and the fact that there is only a handful of local students and no international students here at the moment drain a lot of the lifeblood from the street.
‘But we’ve gone through recessions and downturns and sailed right through, and I hope we can do the same again this time.’
For more information, visit Lord Mayor’s Commendations.