Michelle Cuts Her Own Path With Australia’s Only Dedicated Arrosticini Bar

Michelle di Pietro is a strong example of an Aussie foodservice success story – she’s capitalised upon her Italian heritage to carve out her own special niche in the market.

In the outer Melbourne suburb of Epping Michelle has established what is believed to be Australia’s only dedicated arrosticini bar, Abruzzo Lab. Arrosticini – typically lamb or beef cut into chunks and cooked on a skewer – is Italian cuisine from the Abruzzo region, which is where both sides of Michelle’s family hail from.

And though her father’s side of the family was always involved in hospitality and she grew up loving to cook, it wasn’t until she spent several years in Italy in her twenties that she found what was to be the key to her future back home in Australia.

“I had done an apprenticeship at Spotless Catering and had been working in the industry here, but I decided the Abruzzese style of cooking was something I really wanted to learn more about and I could only do that in Italy. Arrosticini is their main dish and I realised I could base a whole restaurant around it in Australia. Melbourne’s pretty famous for its food scene and street food events, but there was nothing like that here so I knew it could be a hit. There’s so much more to Italian food than pizza and pasta and I wanted to share that with people.”

While working in Italy, Michelle made extensive notes of “anything that would be good on the menu” with an eye to eventually bringing these recipes back to Australia and showcasing them in her own business. “I discovered so much while I was overseas – I have a book of recipes given me by other chefs and my aunts gave me recipes as well, so I was able to bring all this together when creating the menu.”

Though modelled on a traditional arrosticini bar, Abruzzo Lab is in fact a restaurant – “we can comfortably seat 50 to 60 people inside and another 20 outside on the deck. The kitchens are all open plan so you can see the arrosticini being barbecued which I think is a big drawcard.”

Abruzzo Lab’s success has been built upon Michelle’s ability to identify a gap in the market and create a point of difference from the competition through her cuisine. “The fact that we’re Australia’s first arrosticini bar is the whole focus of the business. We make them fresh, there’s a good variety to choose from, and we’re now selling them wholesale as well. I put our success down to hard work, good food and the fact that you can’t buy them anywhere else.”

She describes the customer base as “definitely multicultural”, adding “we get a very broad range of customers, from corporates to people with Abruzzese background, we have people travelling from afar just for the arrosticini and of course the locals coming in for a coffee and a roll. So we’re definitely attracting many customers and they’re learning about Italian cuisine. We also do a lot of home delivery within the local area.”

Abruzzo Lab has been open for just over two years, prior to which Michelle was serving arrosticini at street food festivals and events. The menu has dishes named after places in Abruzzo and Italian ingredients incorporated wherever possible. “We have chilli scrambled eggs with sugo, French toast Italian style which is a type of crostini, panini named after towns and provinces – and I try to relate the food to the name. For example Pescara is on the coast so for our Pescara Panino we use tuna with red onion jam, radicchio and burrata cheese.”