From an interview with Rosa that has been edited.
My parents started the business in 1972.
My dad was a pastry cook in Sicily and, after moving to Melbourne, he wanted to open a cake shop.
Like a lot of Europeans in the early fifties and sixties they ended up in Smith St. They all used to live around here. Near Richmond, Carlton, Fitzroy and Collingwood. A lot of the Greeks and Italians made this their central area.
It was predominately working class with a lot of factories and industries, so people moved here to find a job.
My dad worked hard for about ten years before buying this cake shop.
He still works here.
It’s the same customers who come in.
It’s a generational thing.
The older customers will come with their kids and their friends. Then their kids will eventually come in.
I think customers were originally attracted to the sweets and cakes that my dad made. We’ve basically kept this as a traditional Italian homemake cake shop. We make everything here and my dad still makes the pastries.
He specialises in making the cannoli, profiteroles and gelato.
All of that stuff.
Now, with all the apartments coming up, Smith Street has changed a fair bit.
A lot of working class people have moved out, and a lot of trendy people have moved in. The demographics are changing but it hasn’t affected the way that this business runs. We have kept it old school. We’re for the community so we have tried to keep our business fair and reasonable.
Also, a shop like ours attracts people from a variety of cultures. We get a lot of Somali, Vietnamese and Lebanese people coming in. Essentially, everybody can come in and have a coffee and a piece of cake.
And it’s interesting to watch as the street changes and evolves.
It can’t always stay the same.
We just go with it.
Different patches of Smith St have changed in different ways.
Towards the upper end – near the top of Smith St. – there are still a lot of European shops but it has become a sort of night spot.
In the process, these old cafes have closed down and new shops have opened. We have remained competitive because we’re small, fairly priced and we try not to be pretentious.
People come in and have a coffee and a toasted sandwich. It’s simple and easy. We just sell every day food. And the customers see how cafes were, are, and should be.
We’ve been here a long time so everybody knows us.
By Aron Lewin.