Madre, the Pizzateca crew’s Neapolitan city restaurant, has closed for good after its owners chose not to renew the lease. Co-owner Tony Mitolo tells Broadsheet he and the team, including Naples-born pizzaiolo Ettore Bertonati, had come to a “fork in the road”.

“We finished our initial lease term, so the question for us was do we continue for another three years or do we put our energy into other projects and new projects like One Sneaky Cheetah,” he says.

“We had a really good year and a half before Covid swept through the CBD, which we’re very grateful for. But the last period has been extremely tough in the CBD, and everywhere, really, so it hasn’t made things easy, but we fought through it and it just seemed like the most sensible time for us to end the project.”

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The team announced the closure on social media on Saturday night, following its final service.

“It's with heavy hearts that we have made the decision to close the doors to Madre for good,” the post on Instagram reads. “We have been lucky enough to enjoy three beautiful years as a part of the Gilbert Street community, creating and sharing what we love. Every minute has been a blessing. While the sun sets on our final weekend on Gilbert St, we wish to extend sincere gratitude, humble thanks and a heartfelt farewell to our loyal customers, suppliers and most of all, our staff – past and present.”

The beautiful Neapolitan-inspired restaurant, which made a splash early on for its use of Italian seawater in its sourdough pizzas, opened in August 2019 – eight months before the pandemic largely shut down Australia’s hospitality industry. But Mitolo says the team had been able to push on through the past couple years – until staffing shortages and then the Omicron surge proved too much.

“We did everything we could, we did click-and-collects, we adapted … we were delivering some pizzas, dropping off wine, we changed our whole business model like everyone did. We were lucky we had pizza at least, because it is something people are used to getting in a takeaway format,” says Mitolo.

“But it’s really difficult post-Covid to be able to offer what we offered when we started Madre, and that comes down to staffing … having consistent kitchen staff, to have a consistent offering. Not because people don’t want to work but because we can’t find skilled pizza-makers, with that fornaio or pizzaiolo [training].

“We wouldn’t even have been able to operate Madre through Fringe – just because we can’t find the staff.” (During the Fringe season the Pizzateca and Madre teams are spread across their Sugateca pop-up and their shipping container stall at Gluttony.)

The team is now putting its energy into its newest venue, One Sneaky Cheetah, which opened in Ridleyton in December. Mitolo says the takeaway-focused venue has been so busy there have been regular lines out the door.

“We’ve had a huge response. We had a huge response from the press and from people responding to that. A lot of it has been that connection to Madre and Pizzateca … so it’s been really cool.”

Bertonati will now spend more time at Sneaky Cheetah. And with more freedom, he plans to host pizza-making classes for home cooks and aspiring pizzaiolos. “Which will hopefully kill two birds with one stone,” says Mitolo. “We want to hook into the culinary schools in South Australia, like Tafe courses, and put it out that we can help people get some work, even while they’re studying to be a chef or a cook and teach them a pretty cool skill like hand-stretching pizza and cooking woodfired pizza and different dough recipes and different techniques. That’s something Ettore is quite passionate about, sharing that skill.

“And with so many home wood ovens now, we think it’ll be cool for someone to come in for three or four hours on a Saturday, learn how to make a dough, stretch some pizza, eat some pizza, have a glass of wine and talk to a master about it and take that home.”

Mitolo is reflective about the closure. “It’s a tough time but it makes sense,” he says. “If you remove the emotions from it – you have to sometimes do that and it’s a hard thing to do – it’s sad to close or end any project but any story has to wrap up in the end. It’s about putting energy where you feel it’s needed.”