The new gold standard for Italian hospitality

By Katie Johnson  

Walking into Café Gilli, customers are instantly greeted by a sun-flooded space, the smell of homecooked Italian food and a warm welcome from owners Carla Russo and Joe Vitale.  

As business and life partners of more than 30 years, the pair is well versed in making sure customers leave with a full belly and a warm heart. 

“All the feedback from customers we’ve received so far is that there’s nothing like it in Melbourne,” Ms Russo said. 

“It’s a really nice, unusual place where you can go sit down, have breakfast, read the paper and watch the world passing by you.”

Café Gilli opened up on Therry St two days before Christmas among a flurry of activity at the market. 

Ms Russo said that although the beginning was tough, it had allowed them to flourish in the new year. 

“Even though it was the worst time to open and I went home crying a few times, it allowed us to see the holes, reflect, and fix them before we opened again in the new year,” Ms Russo said. 

“Now everything has been running smoothly.” 

Carla and Joe have been at Queen Victoria Market for decades and already have three businesses: Café Verona, Q75 and Geloso Gelateria. But Café Gili is a chance for them to move outside of the hustle of the main market and enjoy the slower-paced environment. 

“I love being back in the restaurant business because you get to know the people who come in and sit down, learn their names and look after them,” Ms Russo said. 

“It’s all about the hospitality and, as Italians, we live for that.” 

Gilli serves a menu of mainly Italian food, including fresh lasagne, pasta and paninis, including their famous Porchetta panini. 

Ms Russo said the space and the menu are both inspired by her travels to Florence where she came across a café that she fell in love with. 

“When I was there, we came across a café called Gilli that we went to everyday. It had an incredible atmosphere and delicious food so I said to Joe that if we were ever to open up another café it would be like this,” Ms Russo said. 

“I wanted to do the Porchetta panini which we have been doing for the past 30 years at the night market and make that the hero.” 

Based on customer feedback so far, the pair has succeeded in bringing a slice of Florence to the Queen Victoria Market and has already had a host of regulars coming in. 

“It’s a great atmosphere where you can sit alone and never feel lonely because you can watch the world going on around you over a panini,” Ms Russo said. 

Café Gilli is open on market days from 7am-3pm.

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