1961 Toto’s Pizzeria opens in Carlton

Toto’s claimed to be the first pizzeria in Australia, and on this basis was inducted into the World Pizza Hall of Fame in 2007. However, it’s a false claim. Lucia’s Pizza Bar, in Adelaide’s Central Market, opened four years earlier. Toto’s may well have been the first in Melbourne,  opening on 7 July 1961 in Lygon Street, Carlton. Salvatore Della Bruna operated the business in partnership with Franco Fera and, from 1968, with Silvio Tuli and Salvatore Mercogliano. The partners sold the business to Sami Mazloum in 1983.

In his book Lygon Street, Michael Harden reports that Salvatore Della Bruna had previously tried to start pizza businesses in Canberra and Sydney, but without success. His family owned a pizzeria near Naples, so it was no surprise that he persisted, finally opening Toto’s in Melbourne.  The location was ideal. Not only was Lygon Street already a hub of Italian culture, but it was also close to the University of Melbourne. Harden quotes Salvatore Mercogliano’s wife Silvana:

To start with it was just one little shop with maybe thirty chairs. It had a licence to open until midnight and it was cheap, so of course all the uni students came.

As well as pizza, Toto’s offered a buffet with Italian-style vegetables, arancini, calamari and cotoletta – Italian home-style food that was quite different from the way Australians ate at the time. The pizzas were initially Italian-style, although Della Bruna claims to have invented the “Aussie” – with ham, bacon and egg. And then the dreaded Hawaiian made an appearance. In the film Lygon Street: Si Parla Italiano he says “If my father woulda seen me making pizza with the pineapple, he woulda killed me.”

By 2018 Toto’s also had branches in South Melbourne, Richmond and Essendon. The buffet had long gone and the menu included some very non-Italian pizza choices, like Tandoori Chicken and Chicken and Avocado. And one blanches at the idea of Pasta alla Toto’s: pasta of unknown shape and size accompanied by Chicken Pieces, Tossed With Avocado, Fresh Tomatoes And Herbs In A Light Creamy Sauce. Salvatore’s father would certainly be turning in his grave.

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