In 2019, the four Cosentino siblings – Jonathan, Sarah, Simon and Ryan – opened a deli and eatery, Via Porta, 500 metres from their childhood home in Mont Albert.
It was a project that capitalised on each of their talents. “We’re all very similar, but we’re also very different,” says Jonathan, who ran the family’s previous venture, Balwyn cafe Mr Hendricks, and is responsible for front-of-house at Via Porta. “We can use each other’s strengths to better our business.”
Simon and Ryan, both chefs with backgrounds in fine dining, jointly run the kitchen. Simon worked under the acclaimed chef Philippe Mouchel at the now-closed PM24 in Melbourne before moving to France for two years. Ryan, who started his career at Mr Hendricks, also spent time in France, where he competed in the prestigious biennial chef competition Bocuse d’Or.
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Sarah, who runs architecture and interior design firm Studio Esteta, created a fit-out that spoke to the family’s southern Italian heritage, with textural limestone, pink-hued timber finishes and a spectacular flagstone floor made from stone offcuts. The siblings wanted to create a multifaceted venue that served as an extension of the traditional Italian pantry.
“For us growing up as kids, everything was about food,” says Simon. “It’s what brought joy to our family.”
At Via Porta, customers can dine in for breakfast, lunch or dinner, or take home a pre-prepared meal such as ricotta and spinach cannelloni, shepherd’s pie and eggplant parmigiana. Shelves stocked with jars of preserves and condiments and other pantry staples such as passata, free-range eggs and extra-virgin olive oil line the walls. In the deli cabinet are cheeses and cured meats such as prosciutto, mortadella and sopressa.
An in-house pastry department produces Via Porta’s viennoiserie, including brioche, croissants, danishes and maritozzi (Roman-style baked doughnuts with decadent fillings such as coffee cream or strawberry compote with whipped mascarpone).
It’s an operation with Italian roots – the Cosentinos’ paternal and maternal grandparents migrated to Australia from Sicily and Basilicata respectively – but it also has an international outlook.
“We’ve got 30 staff, and we all come from such different walks of life, but the one thing we all have in common is that passion for food and the ability it has to bring everybody together,” says Jonathan.
“We’ve got such a multicultural kitchen – I think there are six or seven different nationalities,” adds Simon. “Everyone brings a piece of their heritage, and we’re able to use that for different special items, like curries and charcoal kitchen. If the chefs produce something of quality, we’re happy to sell it.”
When Covid-19 hit, “we made the conscious decision to act fast”, says Simon. “Our main focus was to keep all our staff employed.”
Fortunately, the cafe-slash-provedore model proved to be one well-suited to the lockdown. As Covid-19 restrictions took dine-in off the table, eateries were frantically pivoting to retail – something Via Porta already had down pat.
The Cosentinos began selling products through supermarkets and grocers such as Leaf in Elwood and Hawthorn, as well as online hospitality platform Co-lab Pantry, of which you can order from them directly and receive delivery within 15km of Mont Albert. They've also expanded Via Porta’s pastry department, which now services other venues including Padre in East Brunswick, Maker in South Yarra, and the Pipo Group’s three cafes in the CBD, Essendon and Ascot Vale.
They’ve focused on building relationships with other businesses, for example teaming up with The Fishmonger’s Son in Carlton to create a seafood lasagne available to take home at both stores. “There has been a lot of collaborative work,” says Simon. “That’s how we’ve been able to keep everything turning.”
With 2021 just weeks away, the Cosentinos plan on building on the hard-won lessons of 2020. “Once the restrictions start to lift our plan is to go back to what we were, but continue with what we created,” says Jonathan.
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