My great grandfathers name was Emilio Simonetta. He left his beloved little town of San Nicola Da Crissa, in Calabria Italy, in the early 1950’s. With that he left behind the only thing he loved, to make espresso.
Bis-nonno Emilio owned the one and only espresso bar in town, yet those post war days of Italy, especially in the southern parts of Italy, were not the ideal conditions to live under...so, bis-nonno set out on a journey in search of a better life. Initially he landed in Halifax, Canada…however his journey continued to Toronto, which is where he set up home, even after feeling as though the cold temperatures resembled those of Siberia.
Those humble beginnings in Toronto were established after being reacquainted with relatives and friends who’d left Calabria years earlier…it was through these bonds that my great grandfather began to make a life here. As a new immigrant with the English language being a barrier, work was difficult to come by. He began working on Augusta Avenue, peeling potatoes, for a generous Jewish family. In those days, you did whatever you needed to, to make a living. For 2 years he did this, saving whatever necessary to bring and settle the rest of the family that remained in Calabria here. After all, the familgia was everything …and this was the land of opportunity.
Bis-nonno Emilio’s son, Cavalier Guiseppe Simonetta, served on the police force in Italy and also served in the military. This is where my zio Giuseppe leaned how to sew. Bis-nonno Emilio saw this as a great opportunity to set up a small business for his son. He found a little shop in what is today’s original little Italy, Clinton St. just south of College St. Where “Sartoria San Remo” was established. “San Remo” because to bis-nonno Emilio it is the most beautiful city in the world.
As the Sartoria business prospered, and the proud Italians that they were, they would stop working only to enjoy a great espresso made by zia Maria, which she always extended generously to their clientel. Again, zio Giuseppe felt it was an opportunity to open up a little espresso bar in the front of the Sartoria…eventually changing “Sartoria di San Remo” to the beloved “bar sport”.
It was then that zio Giuseppe asked my nonno Michele Rutigliano to build the bar. I remember that zio’s bar was so busy at one point, that we all were obligated to work and help out. Whether is was deliverying espresso and cappucino’s to local businesses, sweeping or lending a helping hand, those memories of family commitment and unity were great times.
As time went on, zio decided to transmit on short wave radio, the soccer games from Italy. He put small speakers outside so that everyone could hear the game being transmitted…needless to say, zio was the first in Toronto to do this in the Italian community that was on College St. at the time. Zio was also a pioneer to what is today our proline, it was called, Totocalcio, basically betting on soccer games. Times were good, people would come from all over to have an espresso or cappucino. Zio also started to make, lemon granita, which was similar to what a lemon flavoured slushy. It was for zio and nonno just like being back home in San Nicola at the bar they had left behind…their heritage had followed.
Zio was faced with the biggest challenge in 1982 when my zia Maria, his wife was struck with cancer. Since none of his kids wanted to take over the bar, zio was forced to close it. This news was devasted for the family and community alike.
Zio Giuseppe once had told me, if i was older he would have signed over his bar to me but, it wasnt the time. I promised zio that one day i would open up an espresso bar, but until then bar sport had closed its doors for good after 40 years.
today 28 years later, Barista Espresso Bar is born. We have come full circle, and with Barista Espresso Bar, we hope that we can have the same passion and love of the same little old bar that my nonno Emilio and zio Giuseppe left behind in San Nicola Da Crissa. Come experience the ultimate espresso!