1939 Beginnings of San Remo pasta

San Remo pasta on sale at Perth's Re Store in 1955

Some accounts suggest that the founder of San Remo pasta, Luigi Crotti, arrived from Italy in 1936 and immediately began making pasta for his fellow immigrants. This story is inaccurate. It’s likely that the true beginnings of San Remo were in 1939, when Luigi became a partner in a pasta business founded by Francesco and Giuseppe Borgia in 1938. The Borgia brothers came from Italy’s south: Reggio Calabria. They imported the pasta-making machinery from Italy and began production in an old dairy at 74 Ward Street, Adelaide.

Luigi Crotti, in contrast, came from the north of Italy, a village called  Teglio in the province of Sondrio, on the Swiss border. When he went into business with the Borgias he had been a naturalised Australian for more than 20 years.  Luigi was born in 1887 and emigrated to Australia in 1907. He was naturalised in 1912 while working at Broken Hill. When World War I broke out, he went back to Italy and served in the Italian army, returning to Australia in 1919. While in Italy he had married, and his wife and sons, Bruno and Aldo, joined him in Adelaide in 1921.

Luigi and Catarina Crotti’s grocery store, 1935 – State Library of South Australia

In the late 1920s or early 1930s, the Crottis went into the grocery business. Their store, in Currie Street, Adelaide, was part of the Home Service Stores chain and became a popular destination for fellow immigrants seeking out continental goods.  The grocery store continued to trade into the 1950s, with Bruno Crotti taking over as the manager.

San Remo claims that Luigi began making and selling his pasta in 1936. If so, there is no clear evidence of this. In his book No Need to be Afraid: Italian Settlers in South Australia Between 1839 and the Second World War, Desmond O’Connor credits the Borgia brothers with founding the industry in South Australia. Perhaps it was because his grocery store offered an outlet for their pasta products that the Borgias offered Luigi a partnership in their business, which was then renamed the Sovrana Macaroni Co.

World War II interrupted the pasta business. Like many Italian immigrants, the Borgia brothers were interned as enemy aliens and spent more than three years in detention camps. Despite his British citizenship (at the time there was no such thing as Australian citizenship), Luigi Crotti was also detained in 1940, as was Aldo. Their detention was relatively brief, however.  Aldo was released after just one month, while Luigi was freed the following year. In the absence of the Borgia brothers, Luigi bought out his partners and took over the pasta factory in Ward Street. It’s not clear whether pasta manufacture continued during the war years, but in 1948 Aldo acquired the business from his father – the true beginnings of San Remo Pasta.

Advertising, 1954

In 1951 Aldo was advertising for factory staff and by 1954 the Crotti grocery store was advertising 58 varieties of San Remo macaroni. By 1955 Pasta San Remo, as the brand was then known, was being sold beyond South Australian borders. Luigi died in 1953 and Aldo, with his wife Josie, oversaw the expansion of the business over the following three decades. Their son Maurice took over as CEO in 1985, but Aldo continued to work in the business almost until his death in 2008. Aldo received many honours, including an Order of Australia and an Italian knighthood.

The company was among the first to realise the national opportunities offered by supermarkets and the range and distribution continued to expand.  In the 1980s, San Remo began working with researchers and farmers to develop a strain of durum wheat (the preferred wheat for pasta-making) suitable for South Australian conditions. The company now has its own mill for processing durum wheat.

San Remo pasta or, as it is more properly known, the San Remo Macaroni Company, remains a family-owned company, managed by Aldo Crotti’s sons Maurice and David. It currently has around a 50 per cent share of the pasta market in Australia and exports to 35 countries throughout the world. San Remo also has a factory in Lucca, Italy, from which it supplies the American market. In the USA the company is coy about its Australian origins – perhaps genuine Aussie pasta isn’t what the market there is looking for.

In 2008, San Remo acquired another South Australian company, Balfours Bakery, which was in dire financial straits. The acquisition meant the survival of an iconic brand with a 150-year history in the state.

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