Matteo Paranzino Café Milano

Images may not be reproduced without the permission of Casa d'Italia CCPI

An Italian Café for Everyone

Among his lifetime objectives, Matteo Paranzino owner of Montreal’s Café Milano, has always wanted to better his life. In June of 1958, with little more than an avid spirit of adventure and a strong work ethic, Matteo left his parents’ home in Pietracatella, Campobasso for Maracay, Venezuela. As a young man Matteo concedes that in those days, “we didn’t have grandi sogni” (big dreams). Exposure to outside cultures, ideals, and visions was extremely limited, punctuated largely by sporadic screenings of il cinema in piazza (film screenings on the main square). Kinship and immigration opened gateways of possibilities more concretely. With his brother Antonio and his sister Giovannina already settled in Maracay, Matteo set out to explore work opportunities as a professional blacksmith. Within a few years, however, the desire to head to North America was propelled by the immigration of his mother and other family members. In 1965, Matteo boarded a Pan American Airways commercial jet and began a new life again, this time in Montreal.

A Home within a Home

“My aspiration has always been to work for myself.” Just six years following his arrival in Montreal in the Spring of 1971, Matteo’s dream materialized. Café Milano—named spontaneously after the Italian cosmopolitan city synonymous with innovation and business—was concretized. With the family home just upstairs from the Café, and his young children Kristina, Marco and Kyla growing (and sometimes, running around the premises!), it was difficult for Matteo to concentrate on anything else but the Café and his family in the first few years. From the mid-1970s onwards, the Café activity intensified. In order to cater more adequately to the around-the-clock needs of a clientele—like musicians and waiters who frequently stopped by in the late hours for a chiaccherata (chat) before heading home—Matteo decided to keep the Café open for 24 hours, 7 days per week. This tradition has created a following to this day.

A Montreal Icon for All is Born

“Dobbiamo cambiare questo sistema del bar per gli uomini solo,” (We need to change the bar concept that welcomes men only) Matteo reasoned in the late 1980s. Armed with the conviction that the Café should be a meeting place for all, men, women and their families, Matteo and his then partner, Vincenzo d’Alessio created a space for women to meet and chat. By then, panini, ice-cream, and other food were already being served to patrons. As the first Italian Café to open in St. Léonard, Café Milano quickly transformed into a Montreal icon. Not only does the Café welcome everyone, over the decades it has become an important Italian landmark in Montreal that speaks warmly of family, conviviality, good food and good friends.