The wildly popular Stefanino Panino has recently moved from Brunswick East to Collingwood Yards.
Owner and operator Stef Condello says the idea to open the shop came from doing a small stint at his girlfriend’s family’s Butchers on Lygon Street. Although a qualified teacher, he loved the butcher shop experience and decided to transition out of teaching and start his own business. The opportunity came when got access to a small shop front outside of the warehouse that he rehearsed in with his band. He took that on with his newly formed skills and opened Stefanino Panino which has only grown in scale since then.
Where’d you get your passion for food from?
Being Italian, food is super important in my culture and on both sides of my family. My dad’s from Calabria, he’s first generation Australian, he came here when he was 13, from Southern Italy, the tip of the boot. His side of the family, the southern Italians, are really rural so my grandparents didn’t buy any food, everything was grown on their property in Essendon, chickens too, they would buy some meat, but everything else was grown on site.
My mom’s family is from Sardinia, which is also considered southern. It’s the island below Corsica, that’s where I still have family now, and they have citrus farms in Central Sardinia.
My mom’s dad is from northern Italy, really close to Slovenia, there’s a little bulge, that’s Trieste. He was super passionate about food as well, just on the eastern side of things.
Funnily enough a weird thing I used to do when I was a kid was come home and watch Huey’s Cooking Adventures every day, so I got into the TV cooking cooking world.
I’ve even tried to follow him on Instagram, he’s only got like 200 followers or something. It’s him but he needs to fire up! I don’t know what his story is but I used to love it. I used to come home from school, time to have my snack and watch Huey’s cooking adventures, right? Try and emulate it that night or the next night.
So what was the thought process behind the design for the space?
So when initial talks with Collingwood Yards began I had spoken to a few people that I was thinking about moving here and two architects, who are friends of mine, approached me to do the design and documentation of the space. They put forward their design taking some cues from the old shop and cues from traditional Italian Trattoria stuff, which I love. It’s a real rustic sort of style restaurant where you got crates of vegetables and all that sort of thing, so a really honest and homely sort of presentation. It wasn’t really my initial intention to try and do that, the flavour came from them, but we’re not fully there yet.
I wouldn’t think it’s very Trattoria right now. It’s probably more like a deli type thing but I like the idea of the customer being able to see where their food is coming from and know that there’s no microwaves. If you want something that’s pre-made I think you’re compromising freshness and you don’t know how long it’s been sitting there for. When things are made to order, nothing’s oxidised, everything’s fresh, everything looks homemade.
The current format is very similar to the old shop in that the kitchen’s fully exposed so there’s nothing hidden. Everything’s happening in front of the customer. In the smaller old shop it could be pretty stressful, especially for wait times, things can take longer because we have a massive order to get through, but they can see us working flat-stick, right?
What does a typical workday look like?
It’s changed since moving here, so the old shop was in Brunswick East and I live in East Melbourne. It’s a lot closer now. Initially with my first shop I used to have to go to the butcher and the green grocer in the morning, all these different stops before actually getting to work was pretty stressful. Now everything’s dialled in with suppliers and it’s pretty automated. As long as I’m organised things will show up when they need to show up.
In the morning I buy ice now, that’s my job in the morning because there’s no ice maker on site yet, though we’re in talks with Runner Up Bar and Hope St, to go in with them on a shared one. I’ll swing by Woolies with the ice, come here, Chris, he’s the chef here, he runs the kitchen, he’s normally already here or gets here around the same time as me.
We start roasting porchetta first thing in the morning, and that’s been dried in the fridge overnight just to get the skin to dry for crackling.
Pork goes in, we start food prep, we start setting the shop up, then the boys start or the girls start, whoever’s working, they start turning up. Harry normally comes in next with the coffees, he’s the barista.
The start of the day is a lot more streamlined for me now, in that I can get on site and start roasting things pretty much from 8 in the morning which is good.
What kind of plans have you got for 2024?
Hopefully once we’re licensed we can offer wine and beer, do a few evenings and afternoons. The idea is to extend the offering into the evening. We’ll do small plates, antipasto, and just relaxed house reds, whites, and rosés and Italian beer. I’m really excited, I think it’s a beautiful space and I’d like to be there as much as I can.
I’m having talks with a couple of notable Australian chefs to come in and do some things at Stefanino Panino. Whether that moves to a larger outdoor offering, probably not, not at this stage, I’m thinking that it’ll be small ticketed events that will occur inside the shop.
Even Melbourne Food and Wine have approached me to do something in March and you’ve seen how busy I am and kind of not really focused on that at the moment. At the moment I am just trying to fine-tune the operations inside there and then look to extend that once we feel comfortable.
There might be some nights where we deviate from Italian stuff as well. A lot of my friends are South American or Mexican and they’ve expressed interest to do some things, so it doesn’t need to be exclusively Italian, we might have different things down the line, but yeah the primary offering will be Italian for the most part.
At one point you were sort of thinking about live music or DJs?
In this space I feel like I’m a little restricted with how much noise I can make in there. So I think the most we would do is potentially have some acoustic music or something at some point. I was here on a Sunday teaming up with Hope Street and Wax-O-Paradiso so I’d like to do that more in future as well, potentially being a bit more active in the programming around that.
As for using that space, the performance space I’m apprehensive to make that a really loud space. I kind of like having it as an offset to Hope Street where it’s a bit more quiet and relaxed and somewhere where you can sit down and have a conversation with someone, I think that’s important.
You’ve mentioned working with other members of Collingwood Yards, any other plans in that area?
What Long Prawn do I think is interesting, how they write about food and look at the origins of food and that sort of thing I think is exciting, and they’ve come in and we’ve had a chat. The sandwich does lend itself to catering events and things like that. I’ve been approached by a few different people to do that, PBS, and some other galleries have expressed interest. It is an easy offering to have at openings and I’m super happy to offer services for people that have events on at Collingwood Yard. Whether that’s, sandwich platters, salami platters or when the food offering does get extended, further offerings, coffee, whatever. The reason I’m here is because I want to work with the community. The people here know that there is a resident discount at the shop and I think the people that work here and operate out of here deserve that.
What are your favourite choices on the menu? Would it change depending on the day, like is a rainy day choice going to be different to a hot day?
It’s funny you mentioned rainy days. Come winter time we do want to have a soup option to go alongside the panini, so we want to do some Italian soups that people probably haven’t heard of before. There’s a northern Italian soup called Jota, which is spelt with a J but said like a ‘Y’, which is rare in the Italian language. It’s like a sauerkraut and pork sausage soup. It’s from where my grandfather’s from, Trieste, it’s a very Slovenian sort of Eastern European type thing. So on a cold day I’m looking forward to doing that, I’m hoping we’re going to have too many more cold days for a little while.
The best sandwiches now though, the ones that sell out first are the Porchetta, Roma, so as I said, we’re going to roast the pork in-house every day, and that’s the first to go, the second to go is the rare beef manzo, which I’m roasting right now, and then we rest that and chill it, and then we slice it thin in the morning, they’re the first two to go.
Next is the chicken, which Chris does every morning when he gets on the site, so the signature ones that we do in-house are the first to go now, and they are the best ones.
On a hot day the tuna is also good too, it depends what you’re into, they’re all good, but I think the porchetta at the moment is the star of the show.
There’s obviously an enormous amount of, shall we say there’s a sandwich renaissance happening in Melbourne, particularly in the North, you’ve seen the articles. Is there some sort of point of difference or something you feel like you particularly bring?
I think that if I was opening a business now, I’d be thinking twice about opening a sandwich shop, but that’s the business that I started in the shoebox in Brunswick East. Having said that though, I think we do something pretty good here. I think people can see that the quality of output is pretty high.
So yeah, if you think of a lot of food offerings in Italy, they’ll have the day time food offerings and the night time. The day time menu for quickness and ease and while you’re at work, the sandwich does make sense or a salad. But yeah, you won’t see me selling sandwiches at night time. I’m not prepared to do that. I think that’s silly. I don’t love sandwiches, they’re delicious, they’re great, but there’s more to food than that.