Customers become family

December 27, 2017

Angelo Grasso (centre) with Peter Lahey and Charlie Willaton, who have been coming to Cellar 47 for lunch every Friday since it opened 40 years ago.

Opening his restaurant Cellar 47 was a dream come true for Angelo Grasso, and the successful family business has been a mainstay in Shepparton for 40 years.

The restaurant has become the centre of his world and a favourite spot for many customers, who Mr Grasso said had become a part of the family.

Customers do not get more loyal than Peter Lahey and Charlie Willaton, who have enjoyed lunch at Cellar 47 almost every Friday for the past 40 years.

‘‘Every Friday we welcome them and there are many more like them every week,’’ Mr Grasso said.

‘‘What makes my job easy is the wonderful customers. It’s like we are hosting them at our house rather than restaurant.

‘‘I have never regretted for one second becoming a restaurant owner because I have that passion for what I do and I still have it today.’’

It is through the restaurant he met his wife and business partner, Franca.

‘‘I met her because she was working with the company doing the renovations on Cellar 47 and four months and two weeks later we were married,’’ Mr Grasso said.

‘‘She’s been my partner in business ever since.’’

Mr Grasso’s children have also been a part of the restaurant, with his eldest daughter Bianca working with him as manager and son John also helping out.

The restaurant was fully licensed within a year of opening in 1977 and it quickly doubled in size.

Mr Grasso said the restaurant started by serving Italian/Australian cuisine, but as time had progressed he added more of those authentic Italian flavours to the menu.

‘‘What we serve now is a lot different to the beginning when it was very meat-heavy. Back then ingredients such as eggplant, zucchini and sundried tomatoes were not popular,’’ he said.

‘‘Nowadays those antipasto, Mediterranean ingredients are a staple on the menu.

‘‘Spaghetti bolognese was known as ‘worms’ and we used to serve spaghetti as complementary to main meals and then we couldn’t keep up with the demand for it.’’

Back in Cellar 47’s early days, Mr Grasso was known for hosting legendary themed party nights.

‘‘We did cabaret-style, Bavarian-themed and even covered the floor in sand for a beach night,’’ he said.

Mr Grasso has not been in hospitality his whole life, though.

Aged 12, he arrived in Australia with his family in 1964 from Sicily, Italy, and entered the workforce at 16 as a fruit picker, before he travelled to Ingham, Queensland, where he cut sugar cane for seven years.

He then was part of a business partnership running a coffee shop in Fryers St, Shepparton, for four years before he started Cellar 47.

‘‘I was working part-time outside of school when I first arrived, cutting grass, doing whatever, because I wanted to make enough money to go back to Italy and live with my grandfather,’’ Mr Grasso said.

‘‘I left my friends behind and I didn’t like it here when I first arrived, but then as I started to learn to speak English, made friends here, I didn’t want to leave.

‘‘I’m an Aussie now and I have a lot of respect for this community and have a new lease on life after becoming a grandfather.’’

Mr Grasso had a health scare last year when he suffered a stroke, but said he was now fit and enjoying life.

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