Renzo is a Docklands institution
By Brendan Rees
Renzo Mammolito’s passion for Italian food stems from a very young age.
Born in a small village called Martirano in southern Italy, he has fond memories of learning simple homemade classic Italian dishes under the influence of his mother.
Today, at 53, his passion and respect for fresh ingredients is still alive.
Mr Mammolito runs the popular Renzo’s Bar Café Italiano with his wife Anna in the heart of Docklands at NewQuay.
Located on the stunning waterfront, the restaurant specialises in authentic Italian cuisine and is one of the first eateries to open in the Docklands precinct.
“I love the culture, I love the people,” he said, since opening their doors in 2002.
“I come in; people are friendly. Local people are very good, [and] it’s close to the city.”
Over the years the restaurant has built a strong and loyal customer base with people drawn to its exquisite dishes in a warm and vibrant atmosphere.
The menu, which Mr Mammolito credits with his proud Italian heritage, includes delicious fresh woodfired pizzas, handmade pasta dishes, velvety risotto, and other expertly cooked fish and meat dish classics.
Mr Mammolito was 23 when he came to Melbourne for a holiday with his parents in 1990 to visit his adult siblings, which, he laughed had become a “long holiday”.
“I stayed with my brother for a while and ended up in St Kilda. My parents come here only for a couple of months for a holiday and then they go back,” he said.
“I fell in love with the place.”
Before settling in Melbourne, Mr Mammolito always had his mind set on cooking.
After finishing school at 14, he studied hospitality for five years in Italy before travelling to Europe and working in some of the top restaurants in France and Germany.
“I was working with big hotels, cooking 1500 meals a day with a German company. A lot of good memories; a good lifestyle for a young man.”
In Melbourne, where he spoke little English at the time, Italian food, he said “wasn’t as well-cooked as it is now,” but now “the standard is unbelievable”.
He quickly set about working as a chef at Resati restaurant in Flinders Lane in the CBD before going onto Caffe e Cucina in Chapel St, Prahran.
“I was head chef at Toorak at a place called Carmines, then a place in Toorak called Café Latte,” he said before opening a successful restaurant with his wife in Armadale for six years called Café Renzi.
Mr Mammolito said they then became interested in the Docklands waterfront when a developer suggested “have a look”.
“We came and we set it [Renzo’s Bar Café] up. Any place near the wharf is very good,” he said. “Since then, we have invested our money and been here since.”
He said he was committed to developing a strong sense of community, and will never forget his roots in cooking traditional homemade Italian dishes.
“It’s been a pleasure to be part of the Melbourne story. We’ve been here a long time. I got a lot of customers who have been coming since day one.”
“When they go to the football [at Marvel stadium], it’s like a ritual, they come here. It’s all about the experience.”
“We do fresh produce, we go to the market daily, and we do original Italian cooking.”
“It’s a little Monte Carlo, just a quarter of the price.”
In 2013, Renzo’s Bar Café was one of four local businesses to receive a commendation from the Lord Mayor, which recognised 10 or more years of operation in the City of Melbourne.
However, like many businesses at the moment, his had taken a turn in late May because of Melbourne’s lockdown following an outbreak of COVID-19.
Mr Mammolito said he had made the reluctant decision to serve takeaway only on weekends, conceding “there’s not much happening to be honest” during the week.
He hoped there wouldn’t be an extended lockdown like last year after he was forced to rely on JobKeeper payments to keep staff on.
Mr Mammolito said he aspired to continue his journey and keep providing young people with career opportunities with many going on to become chefs and opening up their own restaurants •