Both my sister and I have always been passionate about all things Italian, in particular, its food and culture,” says Bettina Rabbitte, Managing Director, Little Italy, Ireland’s leading supplier of quality Italian food and wine for over 40 years, “This is how we were raised.”
Everyone knows that “family” is such an important part of Italian life and Bettina and Marisa’s parents, Sylvester Rabbitte and Anna Senezio, understood this. They met in the 1960’s when Sylvester sold food produce to Dublin’s famous Pillar Ice Cream Parlour on O’Connell Street, where Anna worked, the business owned at the time by Anna’s parents Attillio and Benedetta.
Having spent time travelling to Italy on business and also to Anna’s family hometown in Cervaro, Italy, Sylvester grew to appreciate the Italian way of life, the people, family ethics, hardwork and of course its food and culture.
“In the 1970’s Sylvester exported produce to Scotland, the Italian fast food businesses there being an important customer at that time” recalls Marisa, “and then brought Italian foods back from Scotland for our own family use.” This ignited the idea of importing produce directly from Italy and the couple founded their first Italian retail food business in Smithfield in 1976 which largely supplied Italian imported food and wine for the Italian community living in Dublin at the time.
By 1990, the Smithfield business which was now renamed Little Italy Ltd was very much established, thanks to Italia 90, the love affair between Italy and Ireland was brought to a whole new level whereby the Irish supporters returned with a newfound appetite for Italian food and culture.
“We participated in the RDS World Cup events with a small stall selling antipasto platters, cheeses and vino,” says Marisa. “People were having Italian-themed parties in their homes, while restaurants and bars were also getting into the Italian spirit. It was a brilliant time and Italian food became more popular than ever, and when the Irish supporters came back from Italy, they still chose to eat Italian!”
In 1993, Little Italy moved to a new purpose-built premises on North King Street which provided a new shopping experience with a greater choice of products for both its retail and wholesale business.
Despite the passing of Anna in 1996 and Sylvester in 2020, the family spirit remains strong in its tradition and the business is continuing to grow assisted by its e-commerce website.
The Italian community still remain a sizeable part of Little Italy’s customer base and the company regularly sponsors events that highlight this culture, as well as participating in many food-related festivals, including Taste of Dublin, Catex, Love Italian Life and Eatyard.
Today, Little Italy is regarded as Ireland’s leading Italian food and wine importer servicing hotels, cafés, restaurants, delicatessens and gourmet shops, as well as the general public through its Smithfield-based retail shop and online offering and regularly host in store events and tastings.
True to their heritage and tradition, Bettina and Marisa are following their mother’s vision for the business and so Little Italy continues to develop always remembering where it came from and its purpose.