In 1992, Cosimo and good friend Paolo Scoppio returned from a summer in Puglia with an idea to open a place in Toronto. Paolo’s family already imported southern Italian staples and Cosimo had experience bartending and working front of house. But neither of them had much of a plan. They had a family connection to a storefront on Queen West and they took it.
Though now a thriving, hip neighborhood, the Queen West of 1992 was in rough shape. Better known for drugs and illicit sex than for Italian food, the prospects for the store didn’t appear promising. Across the street, a neighborhood personality named Bernie owned an antique shop. When Cosimo and Paolo raised a sign with the name, “I Due Terroni,” Bernie walked over and recommended they shorten it. “It needs to be memorable,” he said. And with advice from that unlikeliest of sources, Terroni was born.
That first Terroni on Queen West was modest, a small store selling southern Italian staples. To display their wares, the guys stacked olive oil and tomato cans on a skid and put it in the front window. In the beginning they made more money from a coin-operated foosball machine than from the store itself. Elena, Cosimo’s soon-to-be wife, would work the old cash register, the kind that had levers and a crank. Her English was still new. One night a man walked in and asked, “Would you serve sex?” Elena was indignant: “We don’t do that here!” One of her co-workers had to explain that the man was simply asking if they had room for six.
Though the neighborhood was still shaky, customers began pouring in to get a good cappuccino and perhaps buy a thing or two. The store expanded to serve pizza, first adding stools, and then tables. Eventually, even a few local Italians came out in support.
Vince, Anna and Cosimo all recall the one signora who would come in every day, and in true Italian fashion, haggle over the price of a panino.