Five Minutes with a Legend: Rinaldo Di Stasio

Published on 7 September 2021

Photo: Ronnie Di Stasio, Legendary Melbourne restaurateur

Rinaldo ‘Ronnie’ Di Stasio is a restaurateur and vigneron with over 40 years of frontline hospitality experience and over 30 of those spent running one of Melbourne’s most praised restaurants. Strong attention to detail, a passion for hospitality (and a powerful voice of it in the last 18 months), paired with a love of the arts and delivering memorable, generous experiences, Di Stasio shows no sign of slowing down. As Café Di Stasio enters its 33rd year of trade and di Stasio Citta enters its third, Ronnie and partner (in life and business) Mallory Wall are set to open their newest venue Bar Democratico later this year. 

Rinaldo Di Stasio was inducted into the MFWDF Industry Legends Hall of Fame in 2009.

My first job in hospitality was a weekend job, and I was as a seventeen-year-old at the Olympic Hotel (Preston) in the busy public bar. It was a steep learning curve for me. I started angling quickly for a promotion and owner Morrie Walsh must have seen something because soon every Saturday I was there working “The Ladies Lounge”. Perfect.

The reason I got into this industry - Simply - I wanted a part-time job, I wanted to work, I wanted to earn my own money. Little did I know what lay ahead of me, how this industry would become such an integral part of who I am.

My mentor is not a hospitality scion but influenced me over decades - Allan Powell, an architect and friend. He had a profound influence, helping me unravel the mystery of a restaurant and distilling it into the details that change experiences. For days, hours and years we would discuss not just the design and architecture of spaces but the way we should treat and use them: from the hot plates to cold butter, the intimacy found in an unusual space to making an electric plug disappear, then hosing the footpath each morning. It was all art, people and the way they relate. Together, he helped me create Cafe Di Stasio and Di Stasio Vineyard. Allan was ahead of his time, as architects were rarely used in the restaurant world back then. Today, every sensible person should have one and I see that more and more do!

It’s hard to narrow down the teaching points from a single mistake. There have been plenty of mistakes, but nothing is truly a mistake if you learn from it. Having said that, ”Rosati“ was not exactly a mistake but it was certainly a wild time. The 500-seater party of the decade back in the ’80s had the big dreams of bringing Flinders Lane to life. It fizzled, but it ended up teaching me that I want and need control. It was too big, too soon. From there, and those lessons learned, I opened Cafe Di Stasio with just sixty-five seats and nowhere to hide.

If there’s one positive thing to come out of lockdown it’s a strength of purpose. I’m more determined than ever to keep going…and people are…. Keep believing in yourself. Dig deep - then a bit deeper and try to support others to do the same. Many friendships have been strengthened through this adversity. Hopefully, soon we can come together. 

 If I could return to a period in the hospitality industry I’d choose a time before the celebrity chef and telly phenomenon that we all seem to have gotten so swept up in, where every talent is in whites, working outside their kitchens and franchising the industry. A quaint idea I know, but it’s the time I long for. I do kind of miss that element of mystery that restaurants and kitchens used to be shrouded in.

But what really excites me now is the awareness and understanding everywhere throughout Melbourne when it comes to loving restaurants. Forget ‘Captain Google’, our Melbourne clientele is so real-time knowledgeable. Food, wine, art - what we call ‘Italianality’, ingredients and their provenance. More than ever, Melburnians appreciate the effort that goes into something that might look simple, but that has a real history and story behind it. I love that.

What I’m looking forward to the most in the next five years. Apart from Italy (how I miss Italy), I’m hoping for smaller, better things. I’m looking forward to small communities achieving greatness. I'm looking forward to more people discovering and championing more small producers, shops, and farmers markets. I’m looking forward to the Alla Wolf-Taskers and Jo Barretts of the world being more widely celebrated and listened to as the pioneers that they are. A renewed focus on shopping and living local, and now -after/with Covid - the understanding that going to a restaurant isn’t just about eating. A restaurant is about the connection with people, the theatre, the atmosphere - the excitement of something to look forward to. We need more of that, now more than ever.

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