Toto’s was founded in 1966 by Salvatore Della Bruna, whose family had run a pizzeria not far from Naples.
Salvatore entered into partnership with Franco Fera, and in 1968 with Silvia Tuli and Salvatore Mercogliano, and, so it is said, Melbourne’s culinary landscape was changed forever!
The humble pizza, the Neapolitan pie, the fare of peasants and working class, was soon on its way to becoming standard fare in countless suburbs and country towns, cities and shopping malls throughout Australia. Are you hungry? The fridge empty? Pizza is the cure, and a delivery boy close at hand. It is cheap enough for a cash-strapped student, and a family struggling to meet its mortgage payments. It is a feast for the masses.
Indeed, when Toto’s opened, the bulk of its customers were students from the nearby university. In time, it drew people from the suburbs throughout Melbourne. As its reputation grew, it drew customers from interstate and overseas, drawn by the legend of the first Pizza House in Australia.
It can be argued that it is Salvatore Della Bruna and his partners to whom we owe the pizza revolution.
Let’s hear it, direct from Salvatore, from an interview published in The Age in 1988 – an interview unearthed by writer Michael Harden while researching tales of Lygon Street:
‘Did I come here to make pizza? No, I would have stayed in Italy if I wanted to make pizza and spaghetti, because my family had the business from my great grandfather. My father told me: ‘You can go to Australia. You can go to America. You will end up with pizza in your hand because that’s the only thing you can do!’
The legend lives on, even though in 1982 the Fera family sold Toto’s to the Mazloum family from Lebanon. The Mazloum family has, by and large, remained faithful to the tradition, and the ambience of Australia’s first commercial pizzeria. It is a fitting story to tell at the outset of our Lygon Street la passeggiata.
This is an extract from Stories from the Heart of Melbourne, a book commissioned by the City of Melbourne and written by Dr Arnold Zable and Dr Sophie Couchman. The stories are based on research, and information provided by interviewees. The book is available to borrow from City of Melbourne libraries.