Food and fast cars: Giovanni Patané on what starts his engine
Updated: May 27, 2021
Supermaxi owner Giovanni Patané tells The Rotunda what starts his engine
By Charlie Gill
“It’s got grated zucchini, which is the green of the car. Muschio verde. We put a touch of chilli because it has that little bit of spice, you know what I mean? Because it has a 1750 motor...and the cherry tomatoes are the wheels in motion.’’
“Most people just say ‘Oh, I’ll have the GTV 105’. But then there’s the people that know that it’s a car, and say ‘you got one?’ And I say, ‘Yes, I’ve got one.’”
Giovanni Patané has loved food, cars and people for a long time. His father – who migrated from Sicily in 1956 – worked as a welder and as a waiter for an Italian catering company on weekends. Giovanni joined him from the age of 13 to 18, paid $20 for twelve hour days.
That passion for food never wavered and in 2010 he opened Supermaxi with his partner Rita.
Supermaxi is housed in a nondescript brick building on the corner of St Georges Road and Railway Place. The building dates from 1971 (same year as Giovanni’s beloved GTV). Before that, the corner site was an old Victorian building – one of Melbourne’s first espresso bars in the late 1950s, where migrant men drank coffee, played billiards and “probably (did) a few other things that weren’t legal”.
So why North Fitzroy?
“North Fitzroy is a very colourful suburb,” says Giovanni sitting at the window. “The shops are great, the village has got a good feel. You’ve got Piedemontes supermarket, you’ve got two great bakers in the same ‘hood. But we always felt that North Fitzroy was a place that needed a casual, well-cooked type of food place in it, because it really lacked that.”
Eleven years later Supermaxi is a beloved North Fitzroy institution. Even last year as the pandemic ravaged small businesses, Supermaxi stood firm.
“It was always going to be fine, even when we had those really tough, tight restrictions – a 5 kilometre radius and an 8 o’clock curfew – people in this area were here week in, week out, picking up their food.”
So how did a motor vehicle end up on a pizza menu?
Giovanni starts to answer: “Cars, cars...I love cars” – then stops and glances out the window – “look, there’s a beautiful car just driving past us now, a SS Camaro.”
His obsession began as a child returning from his extended family’s fruit farms in country Victoria. Sometimes he went back with his father, sometimes in a truck going back to the market. But it was one particular trip with his uncle that seared his consciousness.
“It was a red Alfa Burlina with a black interior and white woolen seat covers. I sat in that car about 8 or 9 years old, going home after lunch, and my uncle already had half a bottle of wine underneath him.
“I’d never sat in anything like it...the smell of that car, the vision I had sitting from the front seat, the actual noise of the carburetors. They had long driveways before you hit the tarmac. Once we got on the roadway he just went BANG!
“We’re sitting at 100 miles an hour from Merrigum to Tatura. I was scared, but I couldn’t believe that a car could go that well. And the noise of that car, the sound of that car – it burnt me, badly.
“We spent most of the time in the right hand lane on the Hume highway overtaking people. My uncle is smoking away, flying.
“We got home at about 5.30 in the evening – and I walked inside the house and said to Mum and Dad: when I grow up I’m gonna buy an Alfa Romeo.”
Giovanni does not treat his cars as trophies. Like a pizza, a car is not just meant to be looked at. It is a moving image.
The year is 2021 and Giovanni has five Alfa Romeos. When he was 18, he wanted to buy one he spotted at a car lot in Sunshine, but his father convinced him otherwise.
“He said ‘Buy your first house. Then you can buy as many of these Alfa Romeos as you want.’ It was very important for Italian migrants to get yourself in a position of security and comfort, because they came from misery.”
He bought his first car in 1988, a white Sprint. All of the cars he has now are from the years 1970, ‘71, ‘75, ‘77 and ‘79.
“So I’m living in the seventies. Everytime I’m sitting in one of those cars I’m transcended back to 1970, every single time, in each of them.
“Whatever problems I have, they just disappear as soon as I hold that wheel, I hear that motor and I smell that car. I love it.”
For Giovanni, the car is a moving image – “more than just four wheels moving along on a piece of tar”.
He lovingly describes the interior of the GTV 105:
“It’s just black vinyl. It’s got a lovely woodgrain dashboard and console. It’s got two beautiful little binnacles. One for the revs and one for the speedometer. A beautiful insignia of the Alfa Romeo logo on the wheel. White headlining, which is absolutely beautiful still today.”
But Giovanni does not treat his cars as trophies. Like a pizza, a car is not just meant to be looked at. It is a moving image.
“I try to drive them at least once a week or once a fortnight. I could drive to Woodend to buy a few pies and the journey to get those pies is the experience.
“It doesn’t matter who you talk to, the love is exactly the same, regardless of what car you have. What brings everyone together is that love.”
"Well a car and a restaurant...I’m in the driver’s seat of both of them. Yeah, running a restaurant is like driving a car: you gotta pull all the levers. At the right time."
Another thing that brings everyone together? Food.
“My love of food comes straight from home. My mum is a fantastic cook. My father grew a lot of his own produce.
“We were never spoilt with toys or clothes, but our fridge was always full. We’ve always cherished the time together at the table.”
That feeling of togetherness was stolen from us last year, but Giovanni says many realised that “you don’t need to look too far outside of who you are and what you have and where you lie to have happiness”.
And if he could own any car in the world? An Alfa Romeo Stradale 33.
“Late ‘60s. Blue. Only one in the world. That car is probably the most beautiful car ever built.”
Based on its popularity, it’s safe to assume that Supermaxi is the Stradale 33 of Italian restaurants. Or that the Stradale 33 is the Supermaxi of Alfa Romeos.
“Well a car and a restaurant...I’m in the driver’s seat of both of them. Yeah, running a restaurant is like driving a car: you gotta pull all the levers. At the right time.
“But with the restaurant...it's about people gathering. The most beautiful times you have is sharing food and wine with people.
“I would put food as number one priority, if anything I had to have in life as a constant, it’s good food.”
Food and then petrol?
“Petrol would be number two.”