When Mario Maccarone started Marios Café back in the ’80s with his best friend Mario De Pasquale, they would fantasise about the future. “We used to dream about Melbourne having more cafés, and now of course they’re everywhere,” he says. “Within a few years of opening, we had people travelling from all parts of Melbourne to eat at Marios.”
Brunswick Street has been kind to Marios Café since it opened its doors on that day in April 1987. “At the time, Fitzroy was very low-rental – most of the shopfronts were either boarded up, or musicians were living in the shopfronts, with the windows curtained off.” Now they’re a destination: “We’re a bit of a landmark in Brunswick Street. We get lots of interstate and international people coming to find us.”
Still, running a café in Fitzroy for almost 30 years is both a blessing and a curse. As Mario says, “Fitzroy has gone from being a part of town that a lot of people didn’t even want to go near, to being the absolute hub of Melbourne – but there are downsides to being a hub. In our part of Brunswick Street there’s the new trend of what I called ‘stand and eat’ – people standing around eating fast food in the street. Right now within cooee of Mario’s there are three souvlaki shops, and they’re open all night. Ten or 15 years ago, there was none of that. It was all sit down eating and drinking.”
Mario misses the transient population, saying that, “Fitzroy has turned into the mortgage belt of Melbourne. Twenty years ago kids were renting in the back streets. Now people are buying in the back streets and their disposable income is less, which means they eat out less. Twenty-five years ago, just about all our staff lived in Fitzroy. Now, virtually none of them do. They can’t afford the rentals.”
Overall, Mario laments that there is now a lack of diversity in the area. “You walk up and down the street and everything’s either a food outlet or a retail outlet.” He provides the example of an elderly Italian couple that used to run a grocery store “with fabulous cheeses. They were there for 40 years, and they embraced the changing clientele, until eventually someone came along and offered them enough money, and they were gone.”
Marios Café, 303 Brunswick St, Fitzroy.