Rome shops take on mafia

AGAINST THE MOB: One of Antica Focacceria San Francesco's new outlets in Rome. Its owner, Mr Vincenzo Conticello, is openly anti-mafia.
Rome shops take on mafia

GOOD HARVEST: Bottega dei Sapori e dei Saperi della Legalita sells products grown on land seized from the mafia.


    Jul 10, 2013

    Rome shops take on mafia

    ALTHOUGH Italy's largest mafia groups - including Sicily's Cosa Nostra, Calabria's 'Ndrangheta and Naples' Camorra - hail from the south, their reach stretches across Italy.

    This includes Rome. Earlier this year, a report by the president of Rome's Appeals Court, Mr Giorgio Santacroce, found that criminal organisations have divided up the capital into areas under their control. They also systematically use commercial establishments to launder money, including cafes and restaurants across Rome.

    It can make a person feel as if there's nothing that can be done about such an entrenched and widespread issue. But a few new establishments have made it easier for tourists and Italians alike to support efforts against organised crime.

    Last year, a Sicilian bakery, cafe and restaurant called Antica Focacceria San Francesco opened its first outlet in Rome's centre. The establishment is unusual: Not only does it serve up Sicilian specialities like cannoli, arancine and cassata siciliana, but its owner, Mr Vincenzo Conticello, is also openly and vocally anti-mafia.

    In 2005, the mafia asked him to pay the pizzo, a protection fee of tens of thousands of euros, for the eatery's original location in Palermo.

    "More than 75 per cent of shops in Palermo pay the pizzo," he said. "But I never wanted to."

    Mr Conticello refused to pay - and called the national military police, the carabinieri. The threats began soon after: His merchandise disappeared, his customers' cars were damaged and one of his cats was killed. Mr Conticello's family lived under guard.

    "I was afraid," he said. "For myself, for my family, for my job, for everything."

    But his continued reports to the police led them to mount an investigation; 41/2 months later, the mafia boss who had organised the extortion was arrested and convicted.

    In the years since, Antica Focacceria has expanded, opening in Milan and at Rome's Fiumicino Airport.

    Last year, Mr Conticello opened two new outlets. The cafe and restaurant at Piazza della Toretta 38/40 - just a few steps from Piazza di San Lorenzo in Lucina, in the heart of Rome - was the first to open in Rome's historic centre (tel: 39-06-68308297;

    The cafe's ingredients are purchased only from anti-mafia entrepreneurs who have also declared that they are anti-pizzo. Many also come from Libera Terra, an anti-mafia cooperative that farms land seized from the mafia and, through community-service camps, demonstrations and events, works to raise awareness of organised crime worldwide.

    A second Antica Focacceria in Rome's centre opened in November; it is located in Trastevere, just over the river from Campo dei Fiori and the Jewish Ghetto (Piazza di San Giovanni della Malvi 14; tel: 39-06-5819503).

    You can buy Libera Terra products in the centre of Rome.

    The Bottega dei Sapori e dei Saperi della Legalita - a shop dedicated to Pio La Torre, a Sicilian lawmaker who was killed by the mafia in 1982 - is at Via dei Prefetti 23, a five-minute walk from Piazza Navona.

    The shop sells pasta, jam, wine, oil and other products grown on land seized from the mafia across Italy, from Sicily to Piedmont (tel: 39-06-69925262;

    "Some customers come to the shop and buy products because they know what we sell is organic, and of high quality," said Mr Franco Piersanti, the store's manager.

    "But most people come because they're already familiar with Libera Terra."

    Altromercato, a fair-trade store near Piazza del Popolo, also sells Libera Terra items (Via di Ripetta 262;

    "I know that many prefer to pay the pizzo," said Mr Conticello. "But, in the long term, we become slaves of criminality. Denouncing the pizzo should be a normal gesture."