By 2021/2022, revenues of the Australian pizza restaurant industry are forecasted to reach approximately A$4.12bn, according to Statista. Pizza has been a mainstay Italian cuisine for over a millennium. Written usage of the word ‘pizza’ first appeared in a Latin text from the southern Italy town of Gaeta, then still part of the Byzantine Empire, in 997 AD. Similar dishes existed throughout the Mediterranean for centuries beforehand, although modern pizza is believed to have evolved from flatbread dishes in Naples during the early 19th century.
Today, traditional Italian meets contemporary dining at Criniti's, a multi-award winner of 'Australia's Favourite Italian'. Criniti's was originally established in 2003 in Parramatta, within Sydney's west by an inspired husband and wife team, Frank and Rima Criniti. At 23 years of age, they were driven by a passion for fine quality food and cultivated success.
Whilst fine Italian food conjures up images of pizza and pasta, Criniti’s also does a mean trade in brunches. According to Uber, Criniti’s is the third most popular spot in Parramatta for weekend breakfast. With breakfast bruschetta sat alongside more traditional options like omelettes and pancakes, it’s easy to see why the chain is a popular way to start the weekend.
However, one of the most popular and traditional dishes at Criniti’s is the Pizza al Metro. The large pizza comes from an old Italian tradition dating back to the early 19th century from Vico Equense located near Sorrento.
The Pizza al Metro phenomenon soon spread throughout Italy and Europe and pizza at Criniti’s restaurants is made from a wood fired crust and is so big it is served on long wooden boards in half metre, one metre, two metre and three metre lengths. The Pizza al Metro is made to share and often comes with a challenge, such as the ‘2 Mates, 2 Metres’ challenge, where two people have an hour to eat two metres of pizza.
Southern Italian way of life
The company’s philosophy since the first restaurant was opened is to provide dishes that convey the southern Italian way of life through the same aromas and tastes experienced by generations of the Criniti family.
Frank Criniti’s parents grew up in Italy before migrating to Australia in the 1960s, where they continued the tradition of having a vegetable garden in the back yard and making everything they ate the traditional way. An abundance of tomatoes meant napoletana sauce was prepared daily. Just like those family meals from the early days in Australia, food preparation and preservation remain central to the Criniti philosophy of establishing traditional Italian eateries.
This Italophilia is reflected in the décor at the eight Criniti’s restaurants in New South Wales and Victoria, with the original Parramatta site featuring a Ducati motorbike on the bar as well as a portrait of possibly the world’s most famous Italian-American, Frank Sinatra. Similar touches can also be found in the chain’s other locations.
Although the expansion of Criniti’s was truly cemented in 2009 when the chain opened a second Sydney location, this time in the east, in Darling Harbour, the company’s impressive growth had begun to show some time beforehand. The original 70-seat restaurant in Parramatta was so popular that Criniti’s needed to purchase the adjacent patio to add another 150 seats.
Following on from that, 10 years after launching, Criniti’s made the step outside of its home city of Sydney, establishing a restaurant in the Melbourne suburb of Carlton. A smart choice, given Melbourne’s long Italian history, counting Milan as a sister city and even boasting a Little Italy cultural precinct in Carlton.
The Italian community of Melbourne is the second largest ethnic group in Greater Melbourne, second only to the Anglo-Celtic Australians ethnic group. The 2011 Census counted that of the 185,402 residents that were born in Italy who live in Australia, 68,823 lived in Melbourne, which was the highest percentage in the country at 37.1%. The same could be said for the total Australian population of Italian ancestry, with 279,112 of the 916,121 (30.4%) listed as Melbournian residents, which is the highest Italian population in Australia and the Oceanic continent per city.
‘When you’re here, you’re family’ – a company motto illuminated on the wall in neon red at Darling Harbour, and one that illustrates the culture at Criniti’s. The chain is certainly popular with families – the Parramatta branch was the Winner 2011/2012 for Casual Restaurant & Family Dining at the Entertainment Gold Awards – but it also manages to attract a more exclusive clientele. Criniti’s has locations in some of Sydney’s trendiest dining precincts, such as Woolloomooloo Wharf and Manly.
The opening of the Woolloomooloo venture signalled a desire by the family to take the chain upmarket, and the venue fit-out is as ambitious as the business itself, with, among other adornments, a Ferrari engine in the private dining room and two Ducati motorbikes dangling from the ceiling. Woolloomooloo certainly attracts an upmarket crowd, with Russell Crowe breaking the Sydney apartment record at the time of A$14mn in 2003 for his penthouse.
Looking ahead, Criniti’s is hoping that its success and wide-ranging appeal will translate overseas as the chain looks to expand internationally, with Dubai, New York and Los Angeles rumoured to be the site of the first Criniti’s restaurant outside of Australia.