Like many restaurants across the country coping with the Covid-19 situation, Carlton’s good-time Italian diner Leonardo’s Pizza Palace has been in hibernation for the last few weeks.

But now, after a brief takeaway-only trial last month, it’s opened its doors again. Well, one door.

“We’re doing everything from the dining room, from the side entrance on Drummond Street. There’ll be an area for pick-up and a mini bottle shop in here as well,” says chef-owner Nick Stanton. “And we’re going to do our own delivery. No Uber Eats, none of that third-party bullshit.”

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Your order will be delivered by a staff member clad in a retro-inspired Leonardo’s shirt and branded bumbag. A lightbox has been ordered for the top of one of the delivery cars.

“We’ve been forced to change our business model a bit, so I guess we’re going to be kind of bringing back the ’90s, when kids were delivering food like in the old Pizza Hut days,” says Stanton, who was working at a pizza shop toward the end of that decade.

Pizzas are mostly customer favourites – ham and pineapple; cheese; pepperoni; a vegan number with broccoli and macadamia cream – as well as a ghost pepper, salami and smoked maple syrup special. All come with a little cup of ranch dressing for dipping.

There’s also a lasagne, the dish that’s emerged as Australia’s go-to crisis comfort food. This version is made with bolognaise and white sauce layered between sheets of hand-rolled pasta, with fresh mozzarella, provolone, Monterey Jack cheddar and parmesan.

Salads are designed to be constructed at home (“so it’s as fresh as possible, and it’ll take like two seconds”), and there’s house-made Neapolitan ice-cream, with pumpkin and macadamia, malt and choc-chip and yoghurt-limoncello taking the place of the traditional chocolate, strawberry and vanilla combo.

Booze-wise, the team is busy bottling Leonardo’s house tap wine at the very decent price of $20 a bottle. There are also small runs of boutique wines, bottled Negronis and sixpacks of beer.

The front-of-house staff, bar staff and Stanton will all be on delivery duty, along with co-owners Guy Bentley, Mark Catsburg and Jonathan Harper (also Leonard’s House of Love and Leo’s Pizza by the Slice).

“This is a way for us to generate work for our crew. People need jobs. There are certain people sitting at home right now, sitting on the couch, losing their fucking minds. So instead of having these third-party guys delivering our food, we’ve got our staff members, who are super proud to be part of our team,” Stanton says.

“And it’s so much safer for us to generate our own delivery system. Compare that with having someone that comes in, picks up food, drops off food, then goes to another place, picks up food and drops it off, then goes to another place.”

When bookings have been quiet in the past, Stanton admits the team has used Uber Eats to boost orders. “It was an on-and-off thing. We’ve never been fans of it. But unfortunately, you can feel forced, like you need to have it to get by, which sucks.”

Once Leonardo’s has its own system set up and working well, the hope is the business will no longer rely on third-party services.

“Everyone knows how much money they make from us, but there’s a bit more to it than that. It’s keeping our staff in jobs. Keeping everyone sane,” Stanton says.

“You know how many times I’ve fucking sprung a driver trying to put a pizza box into a pizza bag sideways? Like, dude, what the fuck are you doing? It’s a pizza. You need to put it in flat.

“We’re just going to do it all ourselves. And it’s gonna be fun.”

Food delivery is available to Carlton, Carlton North, Fitzroy and Fitzroy North, with new suburbs added weekly. Updates will be shared on Instagram. Bottle-shop orders are delivered free within 15 kilometres.

Leonardo’s Pizza Palace
29 Grattan Street, Carlton
03 9242 0666

Tue to Thu 4pm–9pm
Fri & Sat 4pm–11pm