When restaurateurs Cosimo Mammoliti and Paolo Scoppio debuted Terroni in Toronto in 1992, a restaurant empire never felt like it was on the horizon. The now-beloved institution had four stools at a bar counter and operated more as an Italian goods store selling top-notch imported olives and sundried tomatoes, ingredients nearly impossible to find in Toronto at the time.
The Italian restaurants that did exist then were largely focused on Italian-American fare; the diversity of regional Italian cooking now widely available in Toronto wasn’t yet a thing. “Cosimo was a bit of a pioneer,” Elena di Maria Mammoliti, Terroni’s director of marketing and Cosimo Mammoliti’s wife, says. “Italian food wasn’t represented in such an authentic way.”
Terroni began by selling fresh coffee and paninis, adding pizza shortly after. Soon its popularity exploded.
In the decades since, the Mammolitis and Scoppio have created a restaurant group, Terroni Group, with nine restaurants and two bakeries across Canada and the U.S. December 4 marked the 30-year anniversary of the Queen West flagship, and Terroni has firmly cemented its position among the top tier of Italian restaurants in North America thanks to its convivial hospitality and stellar food.
“You can have a good meal, and we’re very welcoming of every kind of person,” Elena says. “I think that everybody feels a sense of belonging.”
Pizza marks a turning point
The transition from Italian goods store to restaurant behemoth started with the installation of a pizza oven. At that time, the Mammolitis and Scoppio were the only ones working at the restaurant.
“They [Cosimo and Scoppio] used to go to Italy every summer,” says Elena of the years leading up to Terroni’s opening. “[Cosimo] would work all year round in restaurants and then quit in June, go to Italy and spend the summers in Italy. By doing that he had the chance to get in touch with the people; with the traditions; with the food; with everything that Italy has to offer.”
It was during one of these summer visits to Italy that Cosimo and Elena met and fell in love. In the early days of Terroni, Elena travelled back and forth—visiting Cosimo in Toronto and working to complete her university studies at home in Italy.
Initially it was just friends stopping by to help out with running the business, but as they added more seating, the crowds started swelling through word of mouth.
“We were almost taken by surprise because we became really popular all of a sudden,” Elena recalls.
Diners kept returning for pizzas such as the Puzza, a white pie topped with mozzarella, Italian mascarpone, gorgonzola, mushrooms, and Italian ham. Though traditional Italian fare, such as paninis filled with prosciutto or thinly-sliced salmon, was in the spotlight,
Cosimo’s original creations have gained an even larger fan base. One such favorite is the funghi assoluti, a dish featuring baked oyster mushrooms with parmigiano cheese, breadcrumbs, and garlic, among other ingredients.
“It’s been a best-seller since the beginning,” Elena says.
Terroni’s second location debuted on Victoria Street in 1994, and it would be just the beginning of what was a decade-long expansion across the country. By the mid-2000s, there were six Terroni outposts in Canada, and in 1997, the Terroni Group debuted its first location in the U.S., in Los Angeles’s West Hollywood.
“For Cosimo, he gets so much adrenaline and he loves it so much so I think that’s what keeps him going in being able to do more of this,” says Elena.
Even as Terroni outposts multiplied, high-quality ingredients remained at the heart of the restaurant group’s approach. “Getting bigger sometimes can be seen as synonymous with losing quality and, instead, I’m pretty proud to say that we never left quality aside,” Elena says.
If anything, the Terroni team has become hyper-focused on ingredients over the years, with Cosimo traveling to Italy to select and meet the producers with whom the restaurant group partners.
Diversifying the business
Terroni’s longevity is also in large part due to the founders’ efforts at staying nimble and experimenting with other business models. One such offshoot came about through Cosimo’s trips to Italy.
Unsatisfied with the fresh bread the restaurant was able to source locally, Cosimo connected with a master baker in Italy to train his team. “We had him come over and teach us how to make proper bread with mother yeast [sourdough starter] in the traditional way,” Elena says, referring to Pugliese semolina, the first bread style produced in-house by the restaurant group. What’s more is Terroni set up an exclusive agreement with a small-scale flour miller in Italy’s Marche region, which has fields dedicated to production for the restaurant group.
That planted the seed for Sud Forno, the bakery wing of Terroni that debuted its first outpost in 2013. The bakery allowed Terroni to experiment more with making all of its ingredients from scratch. Today, Terroni produces its own pasta, bread, sauces, pizza dough, butchery products like sausages and salami, as well as desserts.
No plans to slow down
Since that first bakery, Terroni has taken its production capabilities to a whole new level with the openings of Spaccio East and West, two restaurants that debuted in 2019 and 2022 respectively. These restaurants also serve as commissary kitchens for Terroni’s locations throughout Toronto.
“We do everything at Spaccio and then we deliver to the other places,” Elena says. “That can help us guarantee consistency and quality and keep our standards high.”
For now, the Terroni group is focused on celebrating its milestone, a rare achievement for any restaurant in an industry that’s known for rapid turnover. “We’re really lucky because we’ve encountered so many special people and we’ve had so many important people help us to get where we are now,” Elena says.
To that end, Terroni has erected storyboards at several of its Toronto locations, encouraging diners to share favorite memories of Terroni over the past 30 years. Terroni also recently unveiled a new website.
It’s this consistent focus on hospitality and serving high quality ingredients that has kept Terroni on top, Elena says. “In the end, it’s really simple,” she says. “You just use good ingredients. You cook them traditionally and you do things homemade and seasonally. I think that’s what keeps people coming back.”