The early years
Nello and Bruna Borghesi, the founders of La Tosca pasta, immigrated to Melbourne from the region of Tuscany in Italy in 1929. They settled in Collingwood during the Depression, and Nello made alabaster statues from moulds he had brought out from Italy which were sold around Victoria by a relative.
Nello and Bruna Borghesi with their Australian-born sons Bartolomeo, Raimondo and Lionello (Lio), 1939. Source: The Borghesi Family
During the 1930s, with fellow Italian migrant Camillo Triaca, Nello purchased from Filippo Navaretti and Signor Mosca the Café Latin at 206 Exhibition Street. He went on to also own La Scala and La Tosca cafes. The menus still held by the family reveal a mixed menu of local and Italian fare. During World War II, anti-Italian sentiment led Nello to close La Tosca and rename La Scala, the Hoddle Café. The family moved to Daylesford at this time to escape being labelled as 'enemy aliens'.
La Tosca is born
In 1947, having closed The Hoddle, Nello began La Tosca Food Processing Company at 12 Bennetts Lane in the city. With the exception of a relocation to Brunswick in 1972, the business has operated continuously ever since.
La Tosca produced tomato concentrate, tinned tuna, asparagus and peppers, as well as a bolognese sauce under the label of ‘Sugodoro’ (‘golden sauce’). The tomato paste was the most popular product and was predominantly sold to Italian delis and restaurants to make the base for their sauces. The vegetables were supplied by Victoria Market and tomatoes from Werribee market gardens.
In 1952 the production of the canned vegetable products ceased and only the tomato sauce line of Sugodoro continued. This was due to the competition of large companies such as Heinz and Campbells, with which the family could never hope to compete with on a mass-production scale.
In 1952 Nello began the production of fresh ravioli under the label of La Tosca Pasta. Ravioli, considered a specialty product, and only made for special occasions, was the first pasta product the family made at home. The Borghesis would work together to the roll the pasta by hand, using a wooden ravioli roller to stamp the ravioli pockets into the pasta sheets. Around 1957, the family invested in a ravioli machine, purchased from a Greek restaurant in Swanston Street.
Lio Borghesi at the pasta machine at La Tosca factory in Bennetts Lane, Melbourne, about 1969.
Source: Borghesi family and the Italian Historical Society COASIT
The Borghesis found it challenging at first to introduce the pasta to the Anglo-Australian consumers. The Italian-Australian market also had to be convinced that the product was as good as that which they could make themselves. The pasta would be made in the mornings, then delivered in the afternoons in the family van. It was a very labour intensive process and the whole family would help in the production. Deliveries were made to most Melbourne Italian food outlets and restaurants, such as Florentino’s, The Latin, and Marios. By the 1960s, the clientele grew to catering for weddings and non-Italian cafes, and then the business really took off. In the 1960s, the delivery of dry pasta was replaced by frozen products.
This van delivered trays of freshly made pasta from La Tosca to customers in and around inner Melbourne, about 1960.
Source: Borghesi family and Italian Historical Society COASIT
Nello Borghesi died in 1961 and Bruna and the younger son Lio continued to run the business. Now the involvement of Lio’s own children maintain La Tosca as a family affair.
Small migrant businesses
Small businesses have been the mainstay of countless Melbourne families and the heart of many communities, such as butchers and tailors, greengrocers, restaurants, and fish and chip shops. In terms of the Italian community, countless cafes, restaurants, delis, grocers and small food companies were flourishing around inner Melbourne from the 1920s, and particularly around time the Borghesi’s were setting up La Tosca Pasta during the late 1940s and 1950s.
Post-war migrants, especially those from southern Europe, embraced the opportunity to run small businesses. They could get a start without large amounts of capital, special skills or English proficiency. These enterprises not only provided work for extended families, but gave service and character to their neighbourhoods.
By the 1970s, supermarkets were starting to compete with the local specialist stores, while food production was shifting to light industrial precincts on Melbourne’s outskirts. Today, milk bars and family-run factories, once such a feature of Melbourne’s inner suburbs, are now few and far between. But La Tosca has endured.