“Looked after by a father of four” at Donnini’s   

“Looked after by a father of four” at Donnini’s   
Katie Johnson

Despite his innate flair for hospitality, Marco Donnini didn’t always want to go into the family business.

After flirting with a career in sports management, and almost completing a law and psychology degree, it wasn’t until his thirst for progression got the better of him that he began work at his father’s restaurant.

“I became a bit impatient in life, frustrated by the politics of uni, and I wanted to get into the workforce,” Mr Donnini said.

His father, Tibero Donnini, had started up the iconic Italian eatery DONNINI’s on Drummond St in 1979.

And with his father widely regarded as one of the best in the industry, Mr Donnini took the opportunity to learn.

“Food has always been in the blood,” Mr Donnini said.

“But I started to take it seriously when I realised  I was good at it,” Mr Donnini said.

Training with his father and grandparents Fernando and Elena – who had opened the iconic University Café on Lygon St in 1952 – Mr Donnini had generations of culinary prowess behind him.

After managing the DONNINI’s restaurant in Cairns for four years, he returned to Melbourne in 2002 to begin the next chapter of the family business.

Alongside his brother Riccardo, he closed down the original Drummond St restaurant and opened up the beloved DONNINI’s on Lygon St which patrons know today.

“I was fighting being a chef because some wise people once told me that my heart might be in the kitchen, but my head had to remain in the dining room,” Mr Donnini said.

“In business you’ve got to follow your head and the Lygon St restaurant made sense.”

With a loyal base of customers, DONNINI’s has been going strong for the past 19 years.

When it comes down to it, Mr Donnini said the key ingredient for long-term success was consistency.

“Some of our longest standing regular customers have been coming in for 50-plus years from University Café days and the beautiful thing about that is they’re generational customers,” Mr Donnini said.

“Not only did they see my great grandfather, grandfather, but I’m seeing them, their children and so on.”

“Hopefully after so many years we’ve been able to uphold a reputation of consistency in the quality of food and service.”

The food that has kept customers coming back for decades is a selection of fresh pasta that is handmade daily.

Mr Donnini said that the ethos behind the limited menu was to keep the integrity of the food to the highest quality.

“Instead of choosing your own adventure on the menu I prefer to keep it tight, clean and seasonal,” he said.

“What we make, we sell.”

Aside from the food, the relaxed, familial atmosphere and warm service the brothers are renowned for is what makes the restaurant one of the best on Lygon St.

And with Marco or his brother Riccardo always present in store, customers can be sure they’ll receive top-notch service every time.   

“That’s the lovely thing about this place, DONNINI’s isn’t just about our food, it’s an all-encapsulating type of experience,” Mr Donnini said.

“When people say, ‘I feel like DONNINI’s’, that doesn’t just mean the pasta, it means that when you walk in the door there’s a smile, it means you get looked after by a father of four.” •

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