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CHATTER: Patio pioneer passes (July 2021)

August 16th, 2021 · No Comments

Fans of Italy’s national soccer team fill the Diplomatico Café’s patio in Little Italy during the Euro Cup. Little Italy exploded with joyous fans after Italy defeated England in penalties. COURTESY CAFÉ DIPLOMATICO

When Rocco Mastrangelo Sr. and his younger brother Paul established Café Diplomatico in 1968 under its original name, Bar Diplomatico, patio dining was unheard of in Toronto. With the help of two city councillors, it took the brothers a year to convince Toronto Public Health that it was safe for customers to eat outdoors, and that vehicles driving by would not contaminate food. 

How fitting that 53 years later, the concept pioneered by Café Diplomatico is now keeping restaurants across the city alive while they deal with ever changing risks and regulations resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Café Dip, as it is affectionately known, has become a cultural landmark at College and Clinton streets, and has witnessed Little Italy transform around it. 

Mastrangelo Sr.’s son, Rocco Mastrangelo Jr., who runs the business alongside his wife Connie, attributes the restaurant’s success to its customers. 

“Our loyal, long-standing customers have become part of our family,” he said. “There’s this connection that this business has with people who live and work in the community and the customers that we have obtained over the years.”

Within Café Dip’s cozy walls which are covered with old-time movie posters and news clippings you often find tourists eating pizza or neighbourhood regulars sipping their daily espresso. 

Much of that has been missing, however, over the better part of the last year. And that has been difficult for Mastrangelo Jr. and his family. 

“Not only is it my job, not only is it my livelihood, and not only is it a business that I have to take care of, but it’s part of my social life too,” he said. “So I was going stir crazy all these months being locked down.”

This past year has been challenging for other reasons as well. In April, Mastrangelo Sr. died at the age of 87. Born in Anzano Di Puglia, Italy, Mastrangelo Sr. was one of the 400,000 Italians who immigrated to Canada between 1945 and 1970.

As an entrepreneur, he helped shape Little Italy. He owned multiple Italian restaurants, cinemas, and a video store. But his true passion was Café Dip. 

—Joshua Chong/Gleaner News

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