Not many people would be brave enough to open a new hospitality business during a pandemic lockdown, but that’s exactly what Aldo Ruotolo did in October last year.
More than 12 months on, and Gastro Mania, on Cardiff Road, Caerphilly, is not just surviving but thriving, with its unique combination of coffee and stone-fired traditional Italian pizza.
Aldo, who is 28, has lived in Wales for nine years after moving to the country to help a friend with their business.
He explained: “I struggled to find a good stone baked Italian pizza locally – having to travel was not an option. Being from Naples I decided to use my skills and open my own pizzeria/coffee shop and bring a slice of Italian heaven to Caerphilly and the surrounding area.
“Opening a new cafe was hard during lockdown. The positive feedback from people only made me sure that this was the right decision.”
After searching for the right premises, Aldo found them in the former Thomas Cook shop in July last year. Work began to renovate and fit the former travel agents. An authentic stone oven was built in Naples and shipped to Wales, while Aldo undertook a specialist pizza chef course.
Over the summer of 2020, things started to look more optimistic with regard to Covid and the reopening of hospitality. However, there was a setback with Caerphilly entering its own local lockdown in September.
Undeterred, Aldo opened on October 29 with a collection-only service and received lots of support from customers who flocked to try out his Neapolitan pizza – which is freshly prepared on-site and cooked to order. A delivery service soon followed and has been operating successfully since December last year.
With restrictions easing over the course of this year, Gastro Mania now offers table service and a brunch menu between 9am and 3pm.
Aldo said: “As we approach the end of this year, I look back at the changes it has brought. The business continues to grow from strength-to-strength with Peroni on draught now offered in addition to a new selection of desserts to go with our fresh Italian coffee. We’re looking at hosting children’s parties as well as starting our own pizza master classes. “I hope to be able to see more of my existing customers, and welcome new ones, and thank them for their support over the last year.”
Gastro Mania is at 51 Cardiff Road, Caerphilly, CF83 1FP and can be contacted on 02920885111.
Visit their website at www.gastromaniacafe.co.uk for their latest menus. They are open Monday to Saturday between 9am and 9pm but closed on Sunday.