Search the collections
Borghesi Family, Italian Migrants, 1920s
Image: Food Label - La Tosca Asparagus Tips, 1950s
Source: Museum Victoria
Lionello 'Nello' Borghesi was born in Bagni di Lucca, Tuscany in 1902. Before coming to Australia he had spent some time in the USA, where he had sold statuettes made of reconstituted alabaster, produced by an uncle. Nello's first trip to Australia was in 1925 on the ship Regina d'Italia. He then returned to Italy and married Bruna Silvestri in 1928. They returned to Australia on board the Orama, arriving in Melbourne on 10 December 1929 and settling in Collingwood.
The Great Depression made it difficult to find work, so Lionello began making alabaster statuettes using the moulds he had brought with him from Italy. A relative of Bruna, Amerigo Silvestri, travelled throughout Victoria selling the statuettes at country hotels.
In 1930 Philip (or Filippo) Navaretti and Signor Mosca established and named the 'Cafe Latin' at 206 Exhibition Street, Melbourne. Navaretti sold the business to Nello Borghesi and Camillo Triaca. Borghesi didn't stay in the partnership for long and Cafe Latin continued to be run by the Triaca family. Borghesi opened La Tosca at 163-65 Russell Street and then La Scala on the corner of Little Collins and Elizabeth Streets. The 'Latin' relocated to Lonsdale Street, under the management of Triaca's son, David and for a time, Dante Triaca as well.
Anti-Italian sentiment during WW2 prompted Nello to close down La Tosca and rename La Scala 'The Hoddle Cafe'. The Hoddle continued to successfully operate during the war under the management of a friend, Ella Clarke. Like many other Italian families escaping the 'enemy aliens' taunts during World War II by going to country areas, the Borghesi family fled to Daylesford. Bruna would apply for a permit from the local police station before she was permitted to go shopping beyond the confines of the local neighbourhood.
After the war, Nello sold The Hoddle Café in about 1946. In 1947 he opened 'La Tosca Food Processing Company' at 12 Bennetts Lane, Melbourne. It produced tomato concentrate, tuna, asparagus, peppers and a bolognese sauce under the label of 'Sugodoro' (golden sauce).
After the death of Nello in 1961 the company was taken over by Bruna. Of their three sons, Bart (deceased), Ray and Lionello ('Lio'), only Lio stayed to work full time in the family business from 1957. Lionello had worked in the business since leaving school and had taken responsibility of the company during Nello's illness. Bruna later entered into partnership with Lio.
La Tosca continued to operate under Lionello's management until his retirement. Like many migrant children, Lionello Borghesi hadworked in the factory business after school and in the holidays and helped deliver pasta to shops and restaurants. His two sons, Edward and Richard, became involved in the business, making them the third generation at La Tosca.
Church, Julia (2005). Per l'Australia : The story of Italian migration. Carlton: Miegunyah Press.
Pascoe, Robert (1987). Buongiorno Australia : Our Italian heritage. Richmond: Greenhouse Publications.
Photographs of La Tosca business and Borghesi family held by Italian Historical Society, Carlton.