Manu Pagliarini has fond memories of growing up in the small Italian village of Sant’Oliva, which sits in a region between Rome and Naples known for producing green olives. One of his favourite pastimes was going to the local alimentari, or green grocer’s shop, and buying arancini balls. “It’s basically a small shop in one of the houses,” he tells Broadsheet. “I remember as a kid having baccala [salted cod] and prosciutto. You’d go there with five lira and ask them to make you a sandwich.”

Inspired by his childhood experiences, the former chef will soon fulfil a long-held dream: opening his own deli, Manu’s Bangalow Alimentari, in the Byron Bay hinterland. While other businesses in the area – including acclaimed restaurants across the road Ciao, Mate! and You Beauty – have a strong focus on local produce, most of the products Pagliarini will sell will be imported from Europe.

Customers will be able to purchase prosciutto from Spain and olive oil, pasta and buffalo mozzarella from Italy. “It will have a bit of a price, but in Italy a cow lives in a completely different environment and has a different source of food,” Pagliarini says. “You will taste the difference. I want to bring my knowledge and heritage.”

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Pagliarini moved to Australia when he was 19 to avoid compulsory army service in his homeland. He got a job in the kitchen at Sydney’s Westin hotel, working his way through the ranks at Italian restaurants like Merivale’s Uccello restaurant atop the Ivy, Mosman’s Ormeggio at the Spit and Newport’s Sotto Sopra. He met his wife, Rachel Decorte, walking down George Street, and the pair were married on his family farm back in Italy.
At the time he was working as a private chef for some of the richest people in the world, but when they learned she was pregnant with twins they decided to return to Sydney for both the breezy lifestyle and ready access to Australia's healthcare system. The move proved fortuitous, as Decorte suffered a stroke in 2017, when she was 30 weeks pregnant. She was placed in an induced coma and the two girls were born via C-section three days later. Part of her brain was removed during surgery, and she now suffers cognitive impairment. “It’s been a very big challenge,” Pagliarini says.

At the time, Pagliarini was finding city life too busy and had been in talks with the proprietors of the Bangalow Hotel, but the move was put on hold while he helped in his wife’s recovery. They finally made the move in 2019 and Pagliarini became well-known around town, often seen enjoying elaborate picnics with homemade focaccia and lamb cutlets in the park with his toddlers, and later roasting a spit at school fundraisers. “Bangalow really reminds me a lot of my hometown,” he says. “It’s up in the hills amongst farms, but the sea is not far. It’s where I want my kids to grow up.”

He had been eyeing an old weatherboard shop built in the main street in 1906 that was once home to bootmaker PI Waugh – the great-grandfather of cricketers Steve and Mark Waugh – and snapped it up as soon as it became available. He’s looking forward to serving products such as pre-prepared lasagne, parmigiana, panini, burrata and Spanish prosciutto that’s been aged for months and sliced with a manual meat slicer. “When you use an electronic slicer, it spins too fast,” Pagliarini says. “A manual slicer gives you a completely different taste. You can come in and get some nice olive oil and pasta to take home to cook, and maybe some oranges if the farmer gives them to me to sell.”

Manu’s Bangalow Alimentari will open in September at 1a/38 Byron Street, Bangalow.

@manusbangalowalimentari