Shop Small, Shop Local at Paddington Alimentari
This Paddington café is a much-loved taste of Italian conviviality, writes Elizabeth Meryment. Presented in conjunction with American Express Shop Small
It is hard to say when is the busiest time of day at Paddington Alimentari.
The boom starts early, with city workers lining up at the counter almost from first light, for their pre-work heart starters. Later the local mums arrive for a breather after dropping off the kids, before the steady morning trade makes way for a thriving lunch period.
If the jovial bustle of customers who often stream out the door of this quaint terrace cafe is at times overwhelming, it certainly does not affect anyone’s spirits.
Customers enter a space so joyful and spirited that even the surliest leave with a spring in their step, their coffee craving satisfied and a bit of community spirit lightening their way.
For the past 15 years Paddington Alimentari has been in the safe hands of owner Laraine Russo, a woman whose apparently effortless ability to create a beautiful space filled with gorgeous things is behind the conviviality of this wonderful café.
Big bowls of lemons and ripe tomatoes rest artfully on the long communal table at the rear of the premises, while out front, coffee lovers compete for a seat at the one bench under the window, or along two stone walls that line the street.
If you like your coffee with atmosphere, this is the place to find it.
“People come from Melbourne and the first thing they do is come here for a coffee,” says Russo with a bemused grin. “I don’t understand it. But they do.”
If they’re not here for the coffee (although they are), perhaps the customers are lined up for the good things that come out of the pastry cabinets. Peer in to find the city’s best ricotta cake, Portuguese tarts, Italian biscuits, pear tarts, butterfly cupcakes and more.
“When I bought Alimentari, I wanted to create something that reminded me of Italy,” Russo says. “I love Italy and I love that community spirit you have in Italy. And I wanted something to remain in Paddington with a bit of history. I have been coming here myself for 48 years. “
In fact, Alimentari’s history stems back longer, with the space operating as a shop or deli since 1901.
“It was always a shop and in the 1940s, Italians moved in,” she says. “They used to live upstairs and work the shop downstairs, so it has been a deli for a long time.”
For Sydney-born Russo, who married an Italian, joy comes from creating a space that is a true community hub. She and her staff know customer’s names, their coffee orders, their trials and tribulations.
“You could run a reality show over the slicer,” she says. “The things that I hear about divorces, marriages, affairs …”
She still works the shop herself every day from 5.30am until 6pm and believes firmly in a work ethic.
“It has been a journey running the shop and we’ve had setbacks,” she says. “I believe in positive thinking. You just keep going. You have to love your business, don’t you? Or there’s no point in doing it.”
2 Hopetoun St, Paddington