TRIBUTE TO FOUNDER: ROCCO FURFARO “HE CELEBRATED LIFE, ITALIAN HERITAGE,TO THE FULLEST.”
Rocco Furfaro’s determination to maintain his Italian traditions got him three things: numerous friends, a place to party and a backstage tour of the vatican.
The first came from his 36-year ownership of Cafe Olimpico in the Mile End and his desire to make it a meeting place for all crowds, from the initial Italian immigrants enamoured with soccer to the current young trendsetters clamouring for their daily coffee fix.
The second and third stemmed from his elaborate nativity scene built outside the pizzeria he opened soon after arriving in Montreal from Rome in 1960.The scene drew the attention of the priest at St. Micheal’s Church in 1965, who enlisted Furfaro’s help with the church’s scene. When asked how he could be repaid, Furfaro only wanted one thing: the church basement, for a party.
About 30 years later, that same priest - then working at the Vatican - gave a visiting (and religious) Furfaro, a behind-closed-doors tour of the Pope’s grounds, overwhelming Furfaro with things rarely seen by any outsider. His Montreal parties were renowned, particularly the annual July feast ‘San Marziale” to reminisce with old Italian friends who had moved to the suburbs.
Like so many immigrants to Canada, Furfaro arrived with only his luggage when he came to Montreal. He married his wife, Guiseppina, and opened the first pizzeria in Montreal called “Melo Pizzeria”, only to sell it a few years later and open the cafe in 1970.
Café Olimpico, Nicknamed “Open Da Night” after a few letters dropped from its “Open Day and Night” sign.
In the early 1970’s, Furfaro helped start one of Montreal’s first semi-professional soccer teams, Superega-St.Viateur; bringing players from Italy to be part of the team. He was also a central figure in the Italian community organizing cultural events and helping to raise money.
There was another constant Furfaro never abandoned: his recipe for espresso. His main idea of maintaining the bar was still to offer that good espresso. He would not change it, the same Italian blend ever since he opened.That dedication to all things Italian will eventually lead him home again.