09/07/2008 - 22:00

Rialto’s hits the spot in Subi

09/07/2008 - 22:00

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Taking over one of Perth's most popular eateries in the middle of the economic boom is among the biggest challenges Albasio La Pegna, the man who brought Funtastico to Subiaco, can recall during his 25-year career.

CHALLENGE: Albasio La Pegna is confident he has overcome the major hurdles at Rialto\'s and is looking forward to growing the business. Photo: Grant Currall.

Taking over one of Perth's most popular eateries in the middle of the economic boom is among the biggest challenges Albasio La Pegna, the man who brought Funtastico to Subiaco, can recall during his 25-year career.

The Naples-born hospitality entrepreneur bought Alto's from Steve Scaffidi in 2005, after the Subi bistro had enjoyed a decade of popular success.

Although Mr La Pegna had built several successful food businesses from the ground up, turning Alto's into a venture of his own, Rialto's, was a challenge for the industry veteran.

"Alto's had been on the market for a long time, but it was very much Steve Scaffidi's, a tiny restaurant. The mum was in the kitchen making the gnocchi, he [Scaffidi] was on the floor, being the restaurateur. Alto's was a great restaurant but it wasn't me; I wanted to change it," Mr La Pegna told Gusto.

Although Rialto's was reasonably busy in the early days, Mr La Pegna says problems soon emerged

"I was still at Zafferano and had a management team looking after Rialto's. But that was three years ago when the boom kicked off and we lost all our staff, everyone went up north to work in the mines," he says.

"I couldn't let Zafferano go down, and I had Rialto's in the middle of Subi, which had changed again since the Funtastico times and had a confused market."

Had Rialto's been owned by a restaurateur with less experience and financial security, it would have closed, according to Mr La Pegna.

Operating two restaurants is becoming a huge task, he says, particularly considering the changes that have occurred in Perth's hospitality industry.

"I really think you have to be in your business 24-7 to control everything," Mr La Pegna says.

"It's hard to have both [Zafferano and Rialto's] staff wise."

Mr La Pegna believes the industry is now reliant on people who, three years ago, probably wouldn't have been given work.

Having been involved full-time at Rialto's for the past two months, overseeing a reshuffle of the restaurant layout, Mr La Pegna says he is happy with the way things are going as Rialto's shows some good signs of recovery and Zafferano is still going strong.

Mr La Pegna's first venture, Claremont cafe-cum-restaurant, Bellissimo, was one of the pioneers of what has become a thriving cafe culture in that suburb.

"With only the pub on the corner, and a couple of other little daggy cafes, there was a gap in the market in Claremont," Mr La Pegna says.

"I got a good deal with the pub, which owned the land next to it. Interestingly enough in those days, the pub didn't want to know about food, they just wanted to pump beer."

Mr La Pegna then bought Tonic, across the road from Bellissimo, and renamed it Pronto. He ran Bellissimo for eight years and Pronto for three before selling.

"I started looking around Subiaco and found this big warehouse smack in the middle of Rokeby Road, basically a big shed."

The big shed was to become Funtastico, which Mr La Pegna sold three years later to look after Zafferano on the Swan Brewery site that one of his regular customers, Multiplex's John Robert, had asked him to develop.

"Sometimes I wish I didn't sell Funtastico but I also think it was the right thing to do. Although it was a big decision I don't regret it, because Zafferano is giving me a lot and fulfilled my ego as far as technical knowledge goes," Mr La Pegna says.

"My aim today is to succeed with Rialto's, it is a great spot. I don't think anyone will be able to find a spot like that in Subiaco these days."

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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