Via Mercanti
By Randi Chapnik Myers

Italian Stallion

Growing up in Salerno, Italy, Romolo Salvati had everything he could want: the sun, the beach and the best Italian food in the world. But he was always on the move. "In 1986, I came to Toronto to play soccer," Romolo recalls. "The team owner liked me and my pizza and my soccer ball, and I signed a contract to play here."

For years, Romolo had no real roots. He travelled back and forth from Toronto to New York, to Vancouver, to Italy. In 2006, he met his wife and that's when he realized he felt that Toronto's Italian food scene had gone downhill. "Everywhere we went, I found the Italian food tasted more like American food – not good enough, not special."

So he took a job at a restaurant making pizza from scratch and  pretty soon he was getting noticed. After a glowing review was written about his pizza, he got a call from the owner of a pizza parlour in Kensington Market. "He was a Chinese guy running a pizza place," Romolo remembers. "He wanted more authentic food and he wanted me to cook it."

The food tastes better because my whole kitchen is from Italy – the chefs, the recipes, the dough, the cheese, all of it, and it comes out of the oven hot and fresh. - Romolo Salvati, owner
Photo courtesy of Pizzeria Via Mercanti

The Pizza Market

When Romolo saw that the 2,000 square foot pizza joint had four ovens, he was in. Then, in 2011, he bought the business – and he had a vision for it. "In the old days, the best pizza was always in the Salerno market – the Mercato – so I called it Pizzeria Via Mercanti. Every city in the world has a market and I wanted to bring the taste of the Salerno Market to the Kensington Market."

And that he did – by creating an authentic Italian experience. Romolo started by sponsoring chefs to come to Toronto. They are masters of old-style cooking, where everything is made from scratch on the spot. Even the pizza and pasta machines were custom made in Naples.

When it's the real thing, pizza is not easy to make, Romolo says. One has to create the dough, then stretch it and then bake it. "It’s an art, making pizza, it’s a real job. You can't put a frozen pizza in the oven and expect it to be delicious," he points out.

In fact, at Pizzeria Via Mercanti, nothing is ever frozen. "The food tastes better because my whole kitchen is from Italy," insists Romolo. "The chefs, the recipes, the dough, the cheese, all of it, and it comes out of the oven hot and fresh."

Photo courtesy of Pizzeria Via Mercanti

The Food Shop

After winning an award for best pizza in Toronto, Romolo wanted more people to enjoy the taste so he opened two more locations as well as a food shop across the street. "Customers kept asking to buy my ingredients – the pasta, the dough, the sauces, the breads – and I wanted to share," he explains. Now customers can enjoy being served in the cozy restaurant, all decked out in wood, brick and red clay with simple tables and Italian wine, or they can whip up their own authentic dishes at home.

These days, many people come to Kensington Market just for the pizza, Romolo says, and that delights him. "Now Canadians can come to love the food I grew up on. Here, you get the real thing. And that's something special."

Photo courtesy of Pizzeria Via Mercanti
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