Giuseppe’s Restaurant Lower Hutt
What’s In A Name
(Giuseppes, pronounced: joo-ZEP-pe)
As you would expect from a business with the name Giuseppe’s there is a strong and lasting connection with Italy and the special cuisine that is now commonly known as the Mediterranean Diet.
Italian Christian names are often shortened or Anglicised for easier pronunciation and spelling. Think Sal for Salvatore, Nina for Angelina and Gaetanina, Paul for Paolo, Tony for Antonio. In this case the name Giuseppe is the proper name for Joe Elenio who, with his wife and business partner, Michele, own and operate the Giuseppe’s business.
Joe was given his proper name (pronounced in the Neapolitan dialect effectively as Joo-se-ppe) by his parents to honour his grandfather on the maternal side of the family. Joe Elenio was the fourth grandson to take the name, two of whom lived in Italy and two in New Zealand.
Joe & Michele Elenio
A migrant’s story
Millions of people left Italy in the 100 years following the unification of the country in 1870, driven by the need to find work and better opportunities. They went in huge numbers to wealthier European countries but also travelled to the United States, Argentina, Canada, Australia and a comparative few found their way to Wellington.
Joe’s father, Pietro, was one of those, finding his way to Eastbourne on the east side of Wellington Harbour, joining old friends of the Della Barca and Meo families. He was the youngest of four brothers, the eldest of whom settled in New York and the two middle brothers went to Argentina and were never heard of again.
Italian immigrants to Wellington came from both the poorer south of Italy and from the more prosperous and industrialised north (these included migrants who developed commercial market gardens in the Avalon-Waiwhetu areas of Lower Hutt).
Pietro Elenio came from the coastal town of Massa Lubrense which is just an hour from Naples and within easy travelling distance of the ruins of Pompeii, the volcano Vesuvius, the famed island of Capri and the tourist-dominated towns of Sorrento and Amalfi.
Like the first of the Italian migrants who arrived in the 1880s Pietro and his friends travelled “alla fine del mondo” (to the ends of the earth) to find a “better life” (una buona fortuna), arriving after a sea journey of 30-45 days. Pietro arrived in 1939 with a small suitcase of belongings and little more.
So many things were different and unusual for these new arrivals. A strange and difficult to learn language, paying homage to a king or queen thousands of miles away, living in wooden houses, surviving the wild weather, having little or no family close by – there was much to get used to and to miss.
In Pietro’s case he was a fisherman at home and continued that while living in Eastbourne and then Island Bay but the gale-force northerlies, angry southerlies and strong tides were a contrast to the pond-like Mediterranean he had left behind.
Foods to long for
But perhaps the greatest contrast came in the everyday meals. The Italians missed the ready availability of foods from back home – pasta, olive oil, fresh or preserved vegetables (in particular the pulpy acid-free Italian tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, capsicum, artichokes etc) – and wine.
Using fresh seasonal vegetables and herbs such as oregano and basil is the basis of the cuisine of Italy.
It took many years for these shortages to be addressed. Yes, the Italians would make their own pasta and pasta sauces, would grow and then preserve their own vegetables, seasoned with herbs and spices, would make their own pastries and sweets.
On their hilly property in Island Bay Pietro built a glasshouse and grew the vegetables so essential to Italian cooking.
But it took some time to source quantities of olive oil (Pietro once bought a small bottle at the local pharmacy following questions about what it was to be used for such was the suspicion with which the oil was treated out of ignorance).
For many years the Italians made do without wine, a key part of the Italian cuisine. In the early 1960s there were some sweet varietals – vermouth, muscatel, marsala – available from a Havelock North vineyard which had Italian connections but it was the 1970s before a few varieties of imported wine were available and even later before the newly established vineyards in Auckland, Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough started producing quantities of sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and other varieties.
Pietro travelled back to Italy in 1951 and married Massa Lubrense resident Teresa Cuccurullo, who was subsequently joined in New Zealand as migrants by elder brother Antonio and youngest sister Rosa. Pietro and Teresa had three children – Antonietta, Paolo and Giuseppe.
Giuseppe, or Joe, spent most of his life as a builder, constructing houses, garages, doing extensions, renovations and other work, often in the company of another member of the Island Bay Italian community.
He married Michele Bruce, a Hutt Valley local, and they had three children. Michele was quickly initiated into the Italian way of doing things – particularly the Long Lunch that was the keystone of family celebrations. She was introduced to fresh mozzarella (made by Joe’s mum), home-made ricotta, savoury and sweet delicacies and other foods.
Michele had always been a good cook and baker, liked to experiment in the kitchen (not always with Joe’s approval) and aspired to own her own caffé.
They were offered and accepted the opportunity to establish Mediterranean Food Warehouse, a caffe/pizzeria/retail store in High Street by Joe’s cousins Joe and Gino Cuccurullo.
Joe and Michele set about the huge task of learning about the business and put in long hours to develop it as a foodie destination in Lower Hutt.
It has been eight years of dedication to the task of bringing a wide variety of European foods to the city as well as offering the ultimate in Italian taste sensation, pizza baked in a woodfired oven with the best of toppings followed by the refreshment of gelato, washed down by the best of imported Italian coffee.
Their commercial trading arm, Specialty Foods, has a wide range of restaurants, stores and caterers among its client base purchasing everything from seafood and pizza bases to smallgoods and wine.
They have run pizza banquets, cooking demonstrations, charitable fundraising evenings, as well as regular gigs by local groups and soloists.
Joe and Michele have also taken an active role in the Hutt Valley Chamber of Commerce and are members of local business groups. They have twice been category finalists in the chamber’s annual business awards. They were winners of the Retail category in 2010.
Over the years they have recognised that meeting customers’ needs must be at the forefront of what they do and they have broadened the product range to meet demand.
This has included stocking popular foods beyond the countries that front the sun-kissed Mediterranean Sea, including products from Poland and Russia as well as Australia and New Zealand.
It has also led to the decision to achieve independence from a franchise holder and to rebrand the business as Giuseppe’s – the Flavours of the Mediterranean.
The change is all about improvement – a greater range of meal choices, table service (in the evenings) and ensuring Giuseppe’s builds on its reputation as a foodie destination.
Do you want a fabulous night out?
A Mediterranean Restaurant with a packed Italian menu including Pasta dishes, wood fired pizzas, European wines & gelato.