Family operator never stands still

Edinburgh-based Vittoria Group has grown through continual reinvention

Tony Crolla and wife Angela took over the family business in 1993

By Dave Hunter

CONSTANT reinvention has been part of the fabric at Edinburgh-based Vittoria Group since before it even was a group. The company, owned by Tony Crolla and wife Angela, owns and operates six restaurants in Edinburgh.

The group’s first eatery, Vittoria on the Walk, on Leith Walk, will have its 50th anniversary next year, ahead of which it will have what Tony refers to as “a reset”.

It’s not the first time the unit has been reinvented.

Founded by Tony’s father, Alberto, in 1970, the restaurant has had its fair share of tweaks over the past five decades – from Alberto’s first expansion in 1977, to his decision, years later, to remove the sweets and tobacco counter that had been an early staple of the outlet’s offer and secure an alcohol licence.

Tony told SLTN his father “had an eye for change”.

“He was always changing things,” said Tony.

“Always upgrading the menu, always giving the place a lick of paint.”

Tony and Angela took over the restaurant in 1993 and continued Alberto’s tradition of investing in the business.

The first major refurb under the couple’s management was in 1996 and included the installation of a new bar, furniture and colour scheme.

A few years after that Tony purchased a neighbouring unit on the same block and expanded the restaurant.

“I realised there’s always an investment to be made,” he said.

“You never get to build and then that’s just it. It was always invest, design, build, invest, design, build.

“Even small things – equipment, menu, service, uniforms, product, décor.”

The expansion of Vittoria on the Walk was the first move in what would become more than a decade of growth.

In 2005 the family opened the La Favorita pizzeria, also on Leith Walk, followed by Vittoria on the Bridge, on George IV Bridge, in 2007.

Two years later the group returned to Leith Walk for another unit, Italian cafe Taste of Italy, followed in 2010 by restaurant and wine bar Divino Enoteca.

Invest. Design. Build.

The next few years were quiet on the expansion front as the Crollas focused on their existing sites as well as building pizza delivery business La Favorita Delivered.

Tony said the goal has never been “expansion for expansion’s sake” and any new venture has to be particularly exciting in order to progress with it.

But that didn’t mean the business was standing still.

“We’re always upgrading something,” said Tony.

“The kitchens, the bars, the food and drink offer.

“We have a calendar now, of upgrading something. So on all our brands there’s something.”

And then, in 2018, the estate grew again.

A property on Victoria Street was initially considered an investment and had previously been leased out.

Early in 2018, with no tenant, Tony had to work out what to do with the unit.

The company – which now included Tony and Angela’s sons, Alberto and Leandro – decided that, rather than lease the building or sell it, Vittoria Group would trade it as a new restaurant.

“I said we can’t make it another Italian restaurant,” said Tony.

“There’s too many Italian restaurants and it’s a big site.

“You need a bit of a niche. So let’s do something different.”

In the end they moved forwards by looking back.

Both Tony and Angela’s families had run fish and chip shops in the city, with both company owners having spent time behind the counter in their younger years.

“It’s in the blood,” said Tony. “We know the game. We love fish and chips. We know the fish and chip shop business.”

A multi-million pound refurbishment of the three-floor, 11,000 square-foot site followed and Bertie’s was born in January of this year.

The 300-cover eatery is operated by a team of 50 staff and has been designed to have a more casual feel than some of its neighbours.

Among the decorations on the walls are Crolla family photos, including one of Tony, age 18, manning the counter at his parents’ fish and chip shop.

The gambit appears to have paid off. Vittoria announced in the summer that Bertie’s had served 17,000 fish suppers during this year’s Edinburgh Festival.

And outwith the new venue the company has continued investing in its estate.

Following the opening of Bertie’s, the group refurbished Vittoria on the Bridge and the business was preparing to refurbish La Favorita when SLTN spoke to Tony.

Then it will be Vittoria on the Walk’s turn, ahead of its 50th anniversary.

After that? It’s anyone’s guess.

Tony said: “What’s the next stage? Another ten restaurants? Buy over another group? Who’s to say.

“It’ll land. What’s for you will just land.

“People know where I am.”