Mario Montessoro was born in Genoa, but has lived in Sofia for years. His restaurant has always had in its statute the obligation to devolve part of the takings to solidarity initiatives. During the pandemic, he rose to the occasion and joined the solidarity project organized by Leo Bianchi, to support health staff engaged in the fight against Coronavirus, and to serve free meals for people in need.
I live in Sofia with my family since 2012, but I was born, 57 years ago, in Genoa. Though I moved to Bulgaria for my son, this country won me over almost immediately. In 2014 I opened an Italian bistro here with two main intentions: to spread Italian cuisine abroad and to create a constructive migrant network. Since the beginning in fact, or rather since 1981 when I entered the world of catering, I never wanted to just do business, but to create a constructive migrant network. To do this in 2016 I started the project We are all, for the creation of activities with social responsibility. This kind of initiative helps not only foreign businesses to integrate better, but also to be a constructive part of society.
My Bistrot is part of this network: we have established in our by-laws that part of the takings must be donated to solidarity activities. In my case, we pay the bills, before the utilities are disconnected for arrears, to retirees or elderly who can not make ends meet or we donate donations to homeless people who have difficulty finding support in the usual network.
In 2019, I also opened a small cultural-arts center, Art Club 500. Here, we organize gastronomic meetings and much more: we try to deepen the links between cuisine, art and literature, trying to spend time together always acquiring new knowledge.
During the pandemic, I found myself with the restaurant suddenly closed. Fortunately, we were allowed to open with a take away and so, with a reduced staff, I still managed to keep my business going. It wasn’t easy, but despite this I didn’t lose heart and when Leo Bianchi called me to involve me in his project, I had no doubt and jumped in.
Every Thursday I would make vegetable creams, each week of different flavors, to serve to health workers. Some dishes were served to the homeless and those in need in front of my restaurant as well.
The great thing was that many of our customers chose to support us and would leave us the equivalent of a meal so that it would remain outstanding for someone less fortunate. Even today, every day, portions of our restaurant are dedicated to those in need. Obviously, we can’t serve many meals for free, but the homeless or people in need know this and perhaps take turns showing up to receive the available dish.
I always have in mind the words of Pope Francis and his Laudato sì: everyday gestures can be revolutionary gestures if they are directed to help our neighbors and our planet. I believe that the pandemic has reminded us of just that: our everyday lives can become important gestures for people less fortunate.