Local Portrait: Massimo Santoro Owner of The Italian Farmers

Written by: Claire Holly Davies

In our new ‘Local Portraits’ series we’ll be highlighting the Inner North London residents, workers and business owners doing amazing things in our corner of London.

We’re starting the series by speaking to the people creating, innovating and keeping our hometown of Finsbury Park (#represent) so vibrant. But what makes Finsbury Park so bloody lovely? Maybe it’s the abundance of deep fried chicken? The melodic song of the ‘mango mango’ fruit stall man flashing his wares outside the station? Or the endless entertainment of Rowans Tenpin Bowling alley after a shandy or five? Perhaps… but the reason why Finsbury Park really does it for us is the talented people that keep the area buzzing.

First up is Massimo Santoro, owner of The Italian Farmers on Stroud Green Road, which is both delicatessen, casual eatery and events space. The idea for the business came from an early discussion Massimo had over lunch (where, let’s face it, all the best decisions are made) “my stepdad and I were in Rome, we were just eating some really nice mozzarella for lunch and we started to say “Why don’t we bring this mozzarella out of Italy?” Two hours later we were looking on the internet researching delivery costs.” Within three months Massimo had relocated from his home town in Italy to London. This was just under three years ago in 2013, by October of that year The Italian Farmers had opened its doors to the public.

I didn’t have legislation and I barely spoke English.
Massimo and the team at The Italian Farmers holding jars of chocolate spread, olive oil and a leg of pork. Finsbury Park, North London

Prior to his relocation, Massimo had previously visited the city a handful of times to see friends, but had no real experience of London nor the people within it – just a perceptive vision of the capital, seen through the eyes of someone looking to bring real Italian culture to foreign shores.

London at the moment is the centre of Europe. Everyone passes by London for business, for tourism, for study, because it’s a cool place.

When Massimo first arrived he faced a wealth of challenges… namely the fact that he had very little understanding of the English language. Hand signals and elaborate games of charades just weren’t going to cut it when it came to dealing with solicitors, so Massimo learnt English as fast as possible.

Despite an arduous start to launching a new business, with challenges that many of us wouldn’t even think about having to face, these obstacles failed to knock his confidence or determination.

I had a target. I really fought for this. It was quite difficult when I first arrived because as I said I didn’t speak English and I didn’t know London. So I had to try to learn English as fast as possible.

The shop attracts a wealth of Italian expats through its doors, seeking an authentic taste straight from home – surely one of the highest accolades of any foodie establishment is when it is advocated by the very people it represents?

One of the team at The Italian Farmers in Finsbury Park working behind the counter, with a pile of freshly baked bread, North London

The products sold by Massimo and his team are high quality, unusual items difficult to find elsewhere in the city. Their laidback dining area situated towards the back of the shop caters for those looking for a hot sandwich, handmade pizza or just a good coffee to mull over during a lunch break or dinner hour. It must be said that they do good things with bread, cheese and meat aka ‘the main food groups’.

But why choose Finsbury Park for his venture, surely those more well known London neighbourhoods were high on the agenda? Soho’s reputation for its restaurant culture, Shoreditch with its innovative food scene or Notting Hill for its wealthy residents and love of independent markets?

When I arrived here I really liked it because it looked like a little village in the city. Everyone seems to know everyone, so when I walk around the street I say hello lots because I see customers or people from other shops. It’s like a little family.

Massimo is an outdoors-in-the-nature type, but also enjoys the cosmopolitan vibe of a big city. It’s probably obvious then why he might pick somewhere like Finsbury Park both for his business and for his home. This London enclave can cater to both sides of his personality, with its leafy green spaces, abundances of restaurants and proximity to the bright lights of Central London and the East End. Local restaurants like Pasta Remoli and the open space of Finsbury Park itself are two of his personal local highlights.

I try to be in the park as much as possible. I like running there, it’s close to my flat and it’s really nice. I like walking round there as well because it helps to switch off my brain.

Running a small business in London is a difficult venture. Fundamentally you need to win people over, it’s not just about nice products and shiny packaging. In order to get the locals on side and into the shop Massimo spent a lot of time engaging with his customers, telling them the story of the products and the ethos of the company. The soul of the business lies not only in the quality of the produce, but also in promoting fair trade and an appreciation for smaller, independent Italian farmer’s and suppliers. The business is affiliated with Campagna Amica, an organisation that certifies the origin and authenticity of their food. It’s through personality and heart that The Italian Farmers has experienced such a success. Each item, with its own unique story, has been carefully chosen by Massimo and his team. The products are special to them and this comes across in their everyday interactions with their clientele.

We always try to give our customers the opportunity to feel like they’re in Italy.
The Italian Farmers team enjoying a meat platter and red wine at their deli

As warm and inviting as Massimo is, he’s also incredibly ambitious. He started working when he was 14 years old and from the outset he made it his mission to learn, listen and take opportunities when they were presented to him. He wanted to create something good and thought by working hard and trying new things he would get there. Prior to his life in London Massimo worked in Milan, the fashion capital of Italy. He was a shop model for a year when he was 19

I loved the fashion world when I was young but I’m not really tall so the only things I could do was photo shoots and showroom modelling because you don’t have to be tall for that, just average height! That was me!
Making real Italian coffee at The Italian Farmers on Stroud Green Road, Finsbury Park, North London

I asked if he ever gets homesick, his response was to smile warmly and explain that whilst he enjoys going back to Italy to see his family he doesn’t miss living there. Two months after he arrived in London Massimo went back to his hometown for a week, but after three or four days he started to want to return to his new home in Finsbury Park.

I wanted to come back to London because it had become my city, my home. I will admit, sometimes I miss the sky because over here it always rains but as I’m always in the shop it’s not that much of a problem!

The Italian Farmers is located on Stroud Green Road
Open 7 days a week
You can visit their online store here

Photos: Michael Barry

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