Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Pina Deli - a community of food lovers

Pina Deli has been serving the cosmopolitan community of Hamilton and beyond for 54 years. There have been eight different owners of the business in that time, including two sets of sisters. The first five owners were from the tightly knit Lettesi community, people who migrated in large numbers from the war-devastated village of Lettopalena.

Pina Deli connects even more than an immigrant community wanting to make better lives for themselves and their families. It connects a community of food lovers – people who relish the diverse tastes and textures of an international cuisine; people who recognize that respect is being shown when prosciutto is cut and wrapped with tender care; people who carry this food to their own kitchens to enliven age-old traditions.

Pina and Domenico Buresti 1961-1969

Pina (Giuseppina) Cavicchia will always remember the vow she made to herself when she turned to look back at the remains of her home town of Lettopalena, as the bus climbed around treacherous hair pin bends in the mountain road.

Aerial view showing the zig zag mountain road remembered by Pina Buresti, and the locations of the old and new Lettopalena
Image: Google Earth

With her mother and younger sister, Pina was leaving their bombed out village in the Abbruzzi region of Italy to board a ship in Naples bound for Australia. An older sister was remaining in Lettopalena.

It was 1955.

‘Goodbye Poverty,’ 14 year old Pina said to herself. ‘I am going to work so hard I will never want for anything.’

And so she did.

Rare photograph of the original fortress town of Lettopalena, perched on a ledge above a deep ravine, prior to its destruction in 1943
Houses up to five storeys high make the best use of the building land available
Photograph from paper by Dr Judith Galvin, courtesy of Cultural Collections, University of Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia

Pina remembers the makeshift home her family had made in unused stone stables outside Lettapalena. The village had been destroyed in November 1943 after two months of German occupation of the area. Soldiers drove the people out family by family; then blew up each house.[1] As a 4 year old, Pina remembers her own father’s return from the war,[2] and later, sitting around the fireplace in the stables with her family and neighbours, listening while they relived their harrowing experiences.

‘I always left my shoes on the chair near the door,’ she tells me, ‘in case the enemy came.’

The young Pina loved school. In the afternoons, she would have her head in a book as she kept an eye on five goats foraging for fresh pasture on land her family owned some distance from home. It was a hard, subsistence life; everything came from the land and everyone in the family had to help.

Pina’s father had migrated 5 years earlier, establishing himself with a job in the coke ovens of the BHP in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia.

Once in Newcastle, Pina completed her final year of school, leaving at the age of 15. It must have been a difficult time to change countries, I suggest – a teenager thrust into a new school, with no English. How did she learn?

Pina thinks for a moment.

‘There were special English language classes,’ she says. ‘I learned about cricket from our teacher! But I think it was the sheer wanting.’

Pina’s first job was in a pickle factory in Fern Street, Islington. From there she worked behind the counter in ‘the German deli.’ The owners did not speak Italian, although many Italians came into the Hamilton shop. When they could not find what they were looking for, the young Pina quietly noted a business opportunity.

In an employment environment rich with jobs, Pina worked in the Bond’s clothing factory, a fish and chip shop and Theo’s Milk Bar in Hunter Street.

In May 1961, Pina married Dominico Buresti.

Dominico’s home was in the Marche region of Italy. When the 16 year old boy decided he wanted to go to Australia, he visited the Australian High Commission in Genoa. There, he was told to come back when he was 17. Before the two months were up, he received a reminder call from a keen official, and was soon on his way.

It was 1951.

At the Bonegilla Migrant Camp near Albury-Wodonga, 10,000 immigrants waited anxiously for promised work that failed to materialise. After some tough short term jobs in Queensland, Domenico and a couple of friends took a train to Newcastle, where he found a job in the blast furnace at the BHP steelworks.

Dominico rented a room in a house owned by a Polish family, saved hard, and was soon able to buy a four bedroom house in Islington. He, too, became a landlord.

Intending to return to Italy, Domenico’s plans changed when he met Pina at a friend’s wedding.

Domenico and Pina Buresti on their wedding day in May, 1961
From the Buresti family collection, courtesy La Nefa

Later that same year, Mr Findlay, a real estate agent Pina had known through her job at the fish and chip shop, contacted her.

‘I have a little shop that might suit you,’ he told her.

On 21 September 1961, Domenico and Pina opened Pina’s Delicatessen at 148 Beaumont Street, near the Wesley Church in Hamilton. The space had been a sandwich bar, and Mr Findlay had seen its potential as a delicatessen immediately.

Then began long days for Pina, working from 7 am to 10 pm, with Domenico doing home deliveries after work at the BHP. ‘Many people didn’t have cars in those days,’ explained Pina.

Pina’s Delicatessen quickly became popular - not just with the local Italians, but with the whole international community in Hamilton and beyond. Although she was just 20, Pina’s varied work experience and determination to succeed helped her master the business.

Eight years later, in 1969, Pina and Domenico were expecting their first child. The long hours would no longer suit a young mother. It was time for change.

When Pina looked for someone to take on the deli, she turned to ‘family’. Pina’s Delicatessen was passed to her younger sister Gia and husband Franco Roncolato in 1969.

In later years, Pina would contribute substantially to her community. She taught remedial reading as a volunteer to students at Newcastle High, and initiated Italian classes for children at St Joseph’s Primary School, The Junction. In 1983, she worked with the Ethnic Communities Council to win a $50,496 government grant  to set up a Multicultural Neighbourhood Centre. The Centre was to focus on meeting the needs of migrant women, especially those for whom English was their second language.

A notice placed in the Italian Centre's  publication 'Centero Italiano' in September, 1966
by Pina's Delicatessen, from the Buresti family collection

Giacinta Roncolato 1969 - 1975

Pina’s younger sister Gia (Giacinta) had migrated to Australia in 1955 from Lettopalena with Pina and their mother. By now the sisters also had a younger brother, who had been born in Australia.

In the afternoon when school was over for the day, Gia hurried to Pina’s Delicatessan to give Pina some help. For Gia, it was ideal work experience.

Gia’s first full time job after leaving school was in the office at Winn’s department store in Newcastle. Then Gia married Franco Roncolato, who had come to Australia at the age of 25, from the town of Cologna Veneta, in the Verona region of Italy.

When the young couple decided to take on Pina’s Delicatessen, Franco left his job in the Bradford Cotton Mill at Kotara. Together Frank and Gia ran the deli for almost 7 years, continuing to operate the Bank of NSW agency.

Franco and Gia Roncolato outside Pina’s Delicatessen at its original location,
148 Beaumont Street, Hamilton, c1970
Photograph courtesy of Gia Roncolato

Gia says of those years:

‘Even though it was hard work, we enjoyed the deli because we met some really nice people. Our customers were of different nationalities such as Italian, Greek, Macedonian, Yugoslavian, and also Australian.

‘We sold a great range of sliced meats and cheese, pasta which was all packed by hand – not pre packed like it is today – and an extensive grocery line. Arnott’s biscuits came in those big tins that so many people remember.

‘We also sold the Italian Christmas cake Panettone, and Colomba the Easter cake, imported from Italy. A small range of perfume was also imported.’

After selling Pina’s Delicatessen to Elsa Terenzini, Gia and Franco went on to another retail venture, very different from the first - an exclusive menswear shop in the Picardi Centre at 54 Beaumont Street, Hamilton.

Elsa Terenzini 1975-1978

Elsa Terenzini continued the Lettopalena connection, operating Pina’s Delicatessen from 1975 until 1978. She migrated to Australia in 1957 at the age of 30, marrying Remo Terenzini, also from Lettopalena. Sadly, Elsa passed away in June, 2015. 

Elsa's daughter Franca Clark remembers her mother being ambitious to do well, undertaking a range of different jobs before buying the deli.

Elsa ran the business herself, with two or three different women helping in the shop. Franca left school to work in Pina’s Delicatessen with her mother. ‘It was a small shop, and I don’t remember her making many changes,’ Franca told me, ‘but she enjoyed having a business.’

Angela Thodas and Teresa Rossetti 1978-1980

When Elsa Terenzini sold Pina’s Delicatessen, it would become the domain of two sisters - from Lettopalena.

Teresa Rossetti (née Martinelli) came to Australia at the age of 22 in 1960 with her father and brother. Her fiancé Renato Rossetti, mother, sister Angela and another brother joined her the following year. Teresa worked in various jobs, including Oldhams, a meat processing factory, before taking on Pina’s Delicatessen with Angela.

Angela Thodas (née Martinelli) was just 6 years old when her family migrated to Australia. Growing up in Mayfield, she worked as a secretary at the Royal Newcastle Hospital.

Teresa’s daughter Daniela Rossetti writes:

‘When Pina’s Delicatessen came up for sale, Teresa and Angela were both excited about the opportunity to go into partnership together. Running their own business was exciting and hard work. During that time they ensured they had the freshest deli meats. Nothing was frozen, and each week deli meats not sold were always thrown out. They both enjoyed the change to retail, a very different role to their previous work. One of the highlights of working there were the loyal customers from both the Italian and Australian communities that they got to know over the three years.’

At that time, Teresa, who was much older than Angela, had three school age children, the youngest being six. The sisters worked long hours and when Angela decided to start a family, they made the decision to sell. Angela stayed on to help with the handover to the next owners, and Teresa would return much later to work for a couple of years with Robert Perisic. 

'They both look back with fond memories of the shop and their customers', concludes Daniela.

In a strengthening of the community ties that bind the Lettisi people from Lettopalena, Teresa Rossetti is godmother to Gia Roncolato.

Pina and Tony D’Accione 1980-1991

The fifth owners of Pina Deli were Pina and Tony D’Accione, both from Lettopalena.

Pina (Giuseppina) Di Claudio emigrated in 1958 at the age of 16 with her mother Maria and brother, Amedeo. Tony migrated alone at the age of 18, joining his brother and sister in Newcastle. Travelling by plane in 1956, he remembers the language and culture shock he felt as he found himself arriving in his new country so quickly.

It was not easy for Tony to find a job initially. He worked for a season cane cutting in Proserpine, sharing a tin shed with another worker in the stifling heat. 

After returning to Newcastle, Tony secured  a job,  and in 1960, married Pina. Over the years, he worked in a variety of industries.

Pina found employment as a cleaner, rising in time to catch the 4.20 am bus to work, dependent on her mother to help with the three children.

‘I did this for 13 years,’ she tells me.

Tony always wanted to ‘do something himself’ and having his own business seemed an attractive idea. When Pina’s Delicatessen came up for sale in 1980, Tony was very keen to purchase. Even though Pina was uncertain, they took the plunge. The deli would once more have someone named ‘Pina’ behind the counter.

Angela Thodas, one of the previous owners and also Tony’s god daughter, kept working in the shop until Tony and Pina learned how everything was done.

‘From the outside, it looks easy,’ Tony says. ‘But a deli is really hard, heavy work. We had all the cured meats hanging in the shop, and in summer had to take them down each evening and store them in the cool room.’

This is how Pina’s Delicatessen used to look inside – Tony D’Accione c1984
Photograph courtesy of the D’Accione family collection

The hours were long, too – they worked five days a week plus Saturdays until 1 pm, with time spent cleaning the machines and the freezer after hours every day. ‘There’s a lot of cleaning up,’ says Tony. ‘I remember a Health Department Inspector telling me once, “If everyone was like you, I wouldn’t have a job!”’

Competition was strong among the four delicatessens in Hamilton, and Tony knew they had to expand into larger, more modern premises. Plans to incorporate the space next door ran into difficulties, and they looked further afield.

In June 1986, Pina and Tony moved the deli to newly built premises at 48 Lindsay Street, on the edge of the Hamilton Piazza. They would now be closer to the central part of Beaumont Street. Still, everything had to be done from scratch – including a new fit out, to meet the more stringent food authority regulations. It may have been at this point that Pina’s Delicatessen became Pina Deli.

On Thursday 29 December 1989, Hamilton was hit by an earthquake measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale. Pina Deli lost large amounts of stock, but staff managed to get the shop operating again within just three days. The new building had stood up to the test well.

Pina and Tony D’Accione, late 1980s
Photograph courtesy of the D’Accione family collection

For Tony and Pina, running the small business was ‘a big challenge.’ By the time they were ready to sell, they had firmly consolidated the reputation of Pina Deli for quality and service. Tony’s outgoing personality and Pina’s generous hospitality must have been a draw card for customers.

They were free now to travel, visiting relations not seen for decades, as far away as Argentina and Germany. Pina’s mother, too, needed her daughter’s care and attention.

Robert Perisic 1991–2001

When Robert Perisic took over Pina Deli, he was the only man in the team. And he was not from Lettopalena!

Robert’s venture into the food industry began when his first career as an accountant with an oil company ended and he found himself facing redundancy. He was investigating various small business options, when Pina Deli came up for sale.

From his job at Tighes Hill, Robert had been in the habit of slipping over to Hamilton to buy a liverwurst roll for lunch at the delicatessen. The son of a Serbian refugee father and a Macedonian mother, he had a taste for the international foods sold at the deli.

Robert and his wife Suzi, then a bank employee, inspected the deli and liked what they saw. They bought it. At the time, they had one young son Michael and another, Adrian, would be born during their time at Pina Deli.

New signage was installed by Pina Deli’s fifth owner, Robert Perisic
48 Lindsay Street, Hamilton
Photographer: unknown

Loyal staff stayed on under the new management – Adriana Palmieri, Anna Capotosto, Maria Profili and even former owner Pina D’Accione. Suzi Perisic helped out after she finished work at the bank, and she and Robert alternated on the Saturday morning shift.

Suzi and Robert Perisic, Pina Deli, 1990s
‘We had all the smoked meats hanging in the shop, just like Tony D’Accione did’

Photograph from the Perisic family collection

‘It was like a family,’ says Robert, ‘and such fun. Always jokes, and laughter. I learned some Italian from the staff – especially how to curse! ‘

I wondered what changes, if any, Robert made at Pina Deli?

‘It’s a long time ago,’ says Robert, ‘and hard to remember. We had all the smoked meats hanging in the shop, just like Tony A’ccione did, possibly even more.’

Television cooking shows by people like Antonio Carluccio and Jamie Oliver were becoming popular, and Robert noticed that customers would come in asking for a new ingredient, or a piece of equipment that had been featured. He quickly learned to anticipate these trends, and order in those items.  

Pina Deli began making its own fresh pasta, and also its own sausages.

‘Our meats were sliced on the spot, and wrapped in paper, just like today,’ says Robert. ‘The slices are laid out separately, not all squashed together in a lump like the supermarkets. Customers appreciate that care and product knowledge. And service is always with a smile.’

Robert does remember a man who used to walk past the deli every morning, and pop his head in the door to inhale the smells - the coffee being ground, the fresh Italian bread and the smoked meats. ‘He never bought a thing!’

Pina Deli supplied restaurants and Robert always tried to be responsive to their needs, as well as to his customers. He would travel to Sydney every month to check out different suppliers for new products, but mostly, customers liked to see the same familiar faces behind the counter, and buy products they were familiar with.

Robert opened Liebchen’s Restaurant around the corner at 79 Beaumont Street, the site of the present day Eurobar. Serving modern Australian cuisine with a cultural twist, some dishes from this popular restaurant were packaged and retailed through the deli.

For Robert, the time to sell Pina Deli came when he wanted to focus on the other businesses he had established. There was someone right there on the staff, ready to accept the challenge.

Maria Profili 2001-2010

Maria Profili emigrated from Puglia, Italy to Germany at the age of twelve. She married there, moving to Australia with her boilermaker husband Paul Profili in 1977. With no family in Newcastle to provide support, Maria was a homemaker, caring for her two sons, Andrew and Patrick. Later, she started painting, becoming involved in schools as a volunteer art teacher.

Maria had had some jobs involving food preparation, and knew of Pina Deli. Keen for a job there, she approached Robert Perisic, but there was no opening available. Two years later, Robert contacted Maria with a 2 day a week job.

Four years later, in 2001, Robert was ready to sell.

Maria’s son Andrew, a chef, had been trying to persuade Maria to join him in a café venture. They decided, instead, to buy Pina Deli. At the last minute, Andrew decided on a different direction, opening an Italian restaurant/coffee lounge Amici close by. Maria was on her own.

Robert and the staff, especially Adriana Palmieri, helped Maria become established. Getting to know her suppliers, and dealing with them, was her first challenge.

When she made home cooked dishes like soups or lentils for sale, they flew off the counter.  Pina Deli continued to offer fresh and imported meats, cheeses, pastas, sauces and a diverse range of coffee.

‘I love this shop,’ Maria says. ‘When you walk in, it has such a good feel. Customers and staff are like family – we get to know what our customers like. They love the personal touch. We are all part of a community of food lovers.’

Maria Profili and staff, 2009
Back row from left: Glenda Taylor, Anna Capotosto, Adriana Palmieri
Front row, from left: Pina D’Accione, Patrick Profili, Maria Profili, Ilona van Raalte
Photograph courtesy of Maria Profili

After 9 years, Maria was becoming weary.

‘There is no rest, no down time,’ she explains.

Supermarket delis were challenging small shops like Pina Deli on price, even though they could never better the quality and personal attention to detail bestowed by the small shop.

After advertising for sale without result, she was ready to close the doors. Then, after one last advertisement, Deborah Brazel, a regular customer, stepped forward.

Maria and her husband continue their creative work. Maria’s paintings - beautiful still life and landscapes – hang on the walls of homes in Newcastle. Paul creates wrought iron structures. And still today, on the walls of Pina Deli,  is a poster of the dry stone trulli houses with their distinctive cone shaped roofs, a reminder of Maria's Puglia origins. 

Courtesy http://www.adventurouskate.com/the-stunning-trulli-of-alberobello-italy/

Deborah Brazel 2010 - 2015

Deborah née Martinini was born in Rome, during her parents’ extended sojourn back to Italy to meet her father’s family. Her mother was from Trieste, and her immigrant parents had met and married in Newcastle.

After leaving school, Deborah worked for various companies, merchandising in supermarkets, ensuring their products were displayed in store.

With her husband Darren Brazel, Deborah always kept a look out for an appealing business opportunity. Their experience running a corner shop in Mount Hutton was useful when Pina Deli came up for sale.

‘I was a customer of Pina Deli,’ says Deborah. ‘It is such an icon. I thought it would be a shame if it didn’t continue.’

When Deborah took over the shop, she was glad to have continuity of staff, who helped her learn on the job. Deborah laughs when she remembers the challenge of learning to slice meats – anchoring the piece with her right hand, and catching the slices with her left.

Previous owner Maria Profili wanted to do two days a week for a time, and Anna Capotosto would always help out when needed.

‘Adriana Palmieri stayed with us until a couple of years ago – she was such a great asset,’ explains Deborah. ‘Then Carla Brinkworth, who has been a friend of mine since we were just eight years old, joined us.’

These days, the core staff are Deborah, Carla and Simone, who is Deborah’s student daughter. Deborah’s son Ryan also worked for a considerable time at Pina Deli. ‘That experience helped Ryan decide what he really wanted to do – train as a chef,’ says Deborah.

While Deborah did not set out to make changes for the sake of it, she did what she describes as ‘a general re-vamp.’ Most importantly, she introduced a smart new colour scheme – the red, white and green of the Italian flag for signage, name badges and aprons.

Some new lines have been introduced, along with a coffee machine for customers who want a one stop shop. In winter Pina Deli offers home made soups made by Carla, and if you have ever wondered where those delicious pasta sauces come from, they are made by Deborah’s father, Ezio Martinini.

Like the other owners, Deborah stresses the ‘family feel’ of Pina Deli. ‘People feel welcomed when they walk in,’ she says. ‘ Staff ask about family members when we know of them. There is a little girl who likes to bring us flowers. That continuity is so important.’

In 2011, Pina Deli celebrated its 50th anniversary, with special offers and promotions throughout the year. In 2014, they even retailed copies of my book, ‘Hidden Hamilton.’

Like a family – Deborah Brazel, Simone Brazel and Carla Brinkworth
Pina Deli, 2015

Helen Morgan, Nicole Eddington and Lori White 2015-2018

In September 2015, and after 55 years as Pina Deli, this little icon became Delikacies. The business is now owned by three women: Helen Morgan, Nicole Eddington and Lori White.

There are smart red café chairs and tables on the pavement, and an inside nook so that customers can grab a coffee to go with a freshly made sandwich or cake. A bright front window display entices customers in, as does a new entrance from the plaza at the back. As well as old favourites there are baskets of fresh produce and cheery sacks of beans, nuts and pulses.

Co-owner Helen is introducing specialities from her Croation heritage, sausages like chevapi and csabai. A huge blackboard explains everything. High on the eastern wall the faces of some of the former owners watch what’s happening as the deli embarks on its new life.

Now the only deli in Hamilton, Delikacies is continuing the Pina Deli tradition of offering customers from Hamilton and beyond unique products and personal service.

We owe so much to the families who embarked on the adventure of running Pina Deli, worked unrelentingly for at least six days every week and met the challenges of small business head-on. We owe gratitude to them all for bringing that sense of family, of community, and their love of good food, to Hamilton.

New view from the inside – Delikacies, 48 Lindsay Street, Hamilton, 2015

A related story about the Lettesi community and its connections with Hamilton can be read here.


Delikacies closed in May, 2018. It continues to serve its loyal customers as Beaumont Street Deli, within the Beaumont Street Butchery.


Thank you to all who contributed information and photographs to this story: Pina and Dominic Buresti, Gia Roncolato, Franca Clark, Teresa and Daniela Rossetti, Pina and Tony D’Accione, Robert Perisic, Maria Profili, Deborah Brazel and Helen Morgan. Thank you also to Carla Brinkworth and Elisa Sandrone for helping me find the past owners of Pina Deli.

If anyone has further information or photographs, please email hiddenhamilton@gmail.com

[1] An accessible version of Dr Judith Galvin’s 1983 PhD thesis 'The Lettesi Story A Community in Search of Place' can be read at https://uoncc.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/the-lettesi-story.pdf
[2] World War II

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