The vibrant Italian community that has taken up residence in Bath
Anyone who’s ever been to Bath for pizza knows that there are myriad of different places to try.
This is thanks, in part, to the city’s thriving Italian community and their passion for great food.
In the 1960s, people drifted from Sicily and southern Italy to work in the mines at Radstock.
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They only got two-year contracts, but many made their home here and decided to stay, even after the mines closed.
Rosario Bavetta, whose family is from the province of Agrigento in Sicily, told how his grandparents moved here and put down roots.
The 48-year-old said: “They came when they were looking for people to work in the mines, as well as three or four families from our town.
“It was only supposed to be temporary, but once they had kids they were too settled, they didn’t want the upheaval back.
“They managed to save enough money to buy a house in Bristol without a mortgage, just two years after moving here.”
But that didn’t stop Rosario from learning the Sicilian way of life.
His parents brought their family back to the island when he was 10, before returning to England in his mid-teens.
“Coffee was my training in Sicily. My father ran a bar there and I made coffee from the age of 10.
“So when I returned to Bristol and needed a part-time job, I was hired by the Boston Tea Party as the first employee.
“After two years there the Bath cafe opened and I created my own place,” said Rosario.
Now, Rosario’s is renowned in both cities as “the place to go” for everything from cappuccino to delicious panini.
Italians flock there for a decent espresso that tastes like home – but you won’t find traditional Sicilians in its restaurants, he explained.
“Old school Sicilians like my grandmother and mother don’t really go to restaurants because they make delicious food at home.
“In the same way that I don’t go into a restaurant to order pasta, I will order a meat dish that I don’t have very often.
“My mother and grandmother, they don’t spend money on food, they rather spend it on gifts and if they go out to eat, it’s a great family occasion,” said Rosario.
However, when her mom returns to Sicily to visit her family, she likes to shake things up a bit in the small town.
“She forces all the housewives to go for a coffee every morning, with croissants. In the small villages of Sicily, the women do not go out for coffee, it is the men who do.
“It’s not the right thing to do, but she sees it differently because she grew up in England, ”he said.
But for all their modern manners, Rosario and her family often elicit a few giggles when visiting islanders.
“Sicily has its own language and it has improved more now. My grandparents don’t speak Italian, they can only speak Sicilian but we haven’t evolved with it because we are in England.
“When we go back, they laugh at us. The words we use, they haven’t heard since their great-grandparents’ day.”
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Vincenzo Bartolo grew up among the pizza ovens in Naples and developed a passion for cooking at the hip of his mother.
He went to hospitality school, learned his trade and moved to Bath to take up a position as manager of the Bath Spa hotel.
After 20 years there, he flew to South Africa and only returned to England when the opportunity to open a grocery store in Bath presented itself.
More than two decades later, the 59-year-old has just signed a new six-year lease on Da Vinci at Bear Flat.
“I have been here for 21 years this month and I am still so passionate about bringing quality Italian products to Bath.
“I get a lot of Italians here, some live locally, others come from further afield. We don’t sell what I sell everywhere,” he said.
In addition to selling products only found in Italy, Vincenzo – or Vin à ses Amis – makes lunch paninis to order and hot dishes like lasagna to reheat at home.
“My mother taught me to cook, there was always a smell of cooking in my house. I’m a good eater, I love food, so making it a natural choice for me.
“And I think Italians love Bath because it’s a Roman city, so we feel at home here and it’s small enough to feel like we belong.”
Like Vincenzo, Christian Cocca established himself in Bath selling quality Italian products to locals and tourists.
His father grew up in Avellino, the Neapolitan town that gave his name to his charcuterie, and his mother is originally from Sicily.
He said: “My father’s sister moved to England in the 70s because she wanted a better life, and she just chose Bath, maybe they liked the Roman connection.
“And the same thing happened with my grandmother, my mother’s mother.
“They happened to be living on the same street and that’s how my parents met, they chatted. There were maybe three or four Italian families on that street.
“I think they feel at home here, it’s a bit similar to Roman places in Italy and the Pulteney Bridge is almost exactly the same as the Florence Bridge.”
In addition to offering Italian specialties that cannot be found online, Christian offers 105 different types of pasta.
Buyers have flocked to Avellino from Hastings, Manchester – and even from Italy.
“I’ve met hundreds of people from Avellino because they walk by and recognize the name and think ‘oh, he’s from Avellino too’.
“Then some people from Hastings found it online and came in a long time ago and loved the store.
“They came back a few weeks ago because they wanted some pieces for Christmas.
“They left Hastings at 6 am to come here and bought a basket, panforte and Italian nougat.”