Il Principe celebrate 20th anniversary

 In Indie Oxford Interviews

Anna at Il Principe shares her dad’s journey over the past 20 years, recalling memorable moments and how he’s been an inspiration to watch and work beside as the team celebrate the Cowley Road institutions 20th anniversary. >>

Il Principe Oxford
Il Principe Italian and Delicatessen 2023

On Friday 1st December, Il Principe celebrates it’s 20th anniversary. 

Il Principe
Domenico 2009

Anna shares where it all began…

Before opening Il Principe, there was a lot of back and forth between Oxford and Naples for Domenico. At the time, work opportunities were quite scarce in Italy, so he initially came to England in search of employment. He briefly worked in London for Carnevale, who is now one of our trusted suppliers but was quickly drawn back to the tranquility of Oxford.

As he felt the absence of his home grow too great, he returned to Naples in 1988. A year later, he was once again drawn to Oxford. He worked in multiple Italian restaurants around the city, including Dolce Vita in Summertown, Luna Caprese on North Parade and Pizzeria Mamma Mia.

In the early 1990s, he returned to Naples but was soon asked by his friend Mario to come back to Oxford and work as a ‘Pizzaiolo’ for the opening of the local Italian restaurant, which we still see and love today – ‘Pizzeria Mario’. The back-and-forth finally came to a halt as he found his new home in Oxford and settled.

Domenico (or Mimmo, as friends and family call him!) recalls Il Principe happening ‘on a whim’…
While passing by one day, he noticed the empty storefront of 82 Cowley Road. Out of curiosity and almost just for fun, he impulsively decided to call the number on the sign. Despite not having much hope, he made the landlord a humble offer which to his surprise, was accepted.

On the 1 st of December 2003, Il Principe Delicatessen finally opened its doors. Business was slow in the beginning, so the decision was made to expand our offering and introduce a takeaway service complete with a full menu. This development made sense, as Mimmo comes from a family of restaurateurs and pizzaioli.

Il Principe
Domenico and brother Raffaele

Our antipasti section also came a little later… The painting of the olive grove, which still hangs above it, was commissioned by Mimmo and painted by Giuseppe Armetta, a Sicilian artist and close family friend of ours who is also local to Oxford.

Il Principe
Painting by Giuseppe Armetta

Memorable moments

In the beginning, when business was slower than anticipated, Mimmo and his team used to play an Italian card game called ‘scopa’ as they waited for customers to walk in.

Another memory which really tested our ability to come together and work in harmony was the lockdown period. We saw a surge in business as people turned to deliveries in times of isolation.

During this time, Mimmo also taught his daughter Chiara the craft of pizza making. Chiara is the youngest of three and Mimmo is very proud… This is, after all, one of the main ways family businesses continue their legacy.

Il Principe
Domenico and Chiara

“Cowley Carnival was always good fun too.” recalls Anna

Il Principe
Cowley Road Carnival 2014

What has enabled the business to weather the trials and tribulations of the last 20 years?

First and foremost, ensure that all expenses are paid and then make the necessary improvements.

A lot of determination and coming together as a family.

By having faith, as Mimmo’s mother taught him.

Speaking as Mimmo’s daughter, I’d like to add that my dad has been an inspiration to watch and work beside all these years. He has a lot of grit, even on tired days.

He always says ‘Tutto Passa’, an Italian phrase that translates to ‘everything passes’. It’s a reminder that times of difficulty are also temporary and will fade, in one way or another.

It’s also important to remind oneself that it’s okay to do things ad hoc when necessary.

As a small team, there’s only so much that can be handled at once, but as long as we stay true to our service and offering, things will turn out fine.

Il Principe Oxford
Il Principe Italian and Delicatessen

Pizzas have developed a lot since the margherita to honour the Queen in 1889, you even do fried pizzas, but do you have a favourite you recommend?

Pizzas have developed quite a bit since then. So much so that you can now find ‘contemporary Neapolitan pizza’, which has a larger and even fluffier crust than the traditional one. Even fried pizza isn’t as modern as it sounds… It became popular post-WWII after most ovens were destroyed during the bombardments. This is when the Neapolitan art of ‘making do’ came into action and fried pizza was born.

Although we like to introduce new flavours in the form of toppings every now and then, we like to keep our dough traditional. We feel it’s the best way to honour Neapolitan culture and Italian cuisine, which is renowned for being understated and tasty. It’s also the best way to share a little nostalgia; we love hearing customers exclaim when they spot foods and drinks they enjoyed during a past holiday in Italy, or when a certain flavour feels like home.

Margherita remains our favourite because of everything it represents… its history and connection to the Italian flag, and its reflection of Italian cuisine – a little goes a long way!

Il Principe Oxford
Pizza Margherita

Cowley Road is a vibrant street in east Oxford and a special place to work

National and international foods can be found here – there is something for everyone at all times of the day. There’s also a great community of business owners willing to help one another.

“We’re very excited and proud to be celebrating 20 years this Friday 1st December. To commemorate the occasion, we’ll be offering some complimentary street food to guests visiting on the day.” says Anna

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  • Sally

    What a story of success. Well done to you all.
    I can’t wait to visit Il Principe next time I visit Oxford.

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