Massimo and Bianca recently opened a new Deli / Café / Restaurant. There’s no shortage of cafés in town so what’s different here? Quite a lot as it turns out!
Massimo de Majo is setting out the tables as I arrive and offers to make me a coffee and the first thing I notice is the lack of a big chrome coffee machine. He assembles a cute espresso maker and sets it on one of the 2 induction hobs in a truly tiny kitchen. Every coffee in the place is made in this way. “It makes the sweetest use of the coffee. Those machines can force the coffee too hard and can make it bitter.” It is delicious.
After sitting down at one of the 3 tables in the café area – (did I mention the place is very small?), we are joined by Biancamaria Stanzani Ghedini. Dispensing with surnames is an essential, obviously!
Massimo is an established international Jazz musician and plays drums and percussion while Bianca is a performer combining visual arts, theatre, movement and music. So what are they doing in Totnes opening an intriguing new eatery? Having spent many years in Malta they became increasingly uncomfortable for their daughter. “Malta is beautiful but for our daughter it is a very conservative place, very strongly Catholic and other children were not allowed to play with her because we are not married.” They also felt the atmosphere was very patriarchal although they acknowledge that the island appears to be improving now. They searched for somewhere in the UK for a school and decided upon Sands School in Ashburton. After moving here they found Totnes and loved it.
An offer for Massimo to lecture for Plymouth University failed to materialise after they closed their Jazz Music Department in Truro forcing him to re-evaluate what to do next. Bianca has studied nutrition in Italy and tells of how she sat with her grandmother in the kitchen when she was growing up being told stories of ogres as she cooked! She believes using the right produce can change the world for the better – everything is organic and the vast majority of the food here is sourced within a few miles of Totnes. The food is generally vegetarian or vegan.
“We love food, we love art, we love healthy things”
However, this is probably the only restaurant in town without a menu! “This is like you coming to my house, I’ll ask you what you would like to eat.” Bianca cooks all the food to order based on the produce and the tastes of the guests.
The space is an extension of their own home and is truly theatrical. It became a source of local amusement that the shop was never going to open! They were forced to place a large sign in the window simply reading “Soon!” – a reaction to being constantly asked by passers-by when they were opening. It took 4 months working with Andy Stidston to craft the shop. Everything is recycled or reclaimed. Andy was the perfect choice to help them being a theatre set designer and builder himself. The results are gorgeous.
Not everything has run smoothly. Massimo was deeply upset by an anonymous note that was pushed through their door shortly after they opened. The note appeared to be xenophobic and was distinctly unwelcoming. Massimo shared the note on FaceBook which elicited a very welcome wave of support which helped them through that time. The situation has now been completely resolved and the original author of the note approached Massimo and apologised for writing it and accepted it was inappropriate and embarrassing. Out of this adversity, has come a strong feeling that Totnes is an extraordinary place with a huge sense of community – in fact more so than anywhere else they have lived in their travels since leaving Rome.
Bianca e Massimo is open everyday except Wednesday from 11am until late. Booking appears to be essential for the evenings! 01803 411700