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Mario and Elena with their son Romeo

The Story of Trattoria Mario

March 1 of 1953 Romeo and Amelia Colzi and their son Mario opened Fiaschetteria Mario on Via Rossina in a 16th century building that had once served as a stable for the Palazzo del Gattamelata, today, Palazzo Alessandri. In the beginning they sold wine, continuing the type of business previously at the same location and their customers were the workers from the Mercato Centrale, and the "old folks" who were numerous at that time in all quarters of old Florence.

But in 1957, when Mario married Elena, the business began to take on the character of a proper trattoria, with table service and hot food cooked on a small stove in the back. They served bean and vegetable soup, minestrone, pappa al pomodoro, trippa alla fiorentina, braciole in salsa, baccalà in umido and bistecche alla fiorentina.

In the early '60s the clientele began to change as more and more tourists began coming to Florence and the student population greatly expanded both at the nearby University of Florence and in the many study abroad programs of foreign universities. Like most of Florence, Mario's was bar deep in water in 1966 when the Arno flooded the city, but like Florence, Mario's survived. In the late '60s the trattoria was a gathering spot for discussions of politics and culture. The locals continued to come, perhaps bemused by the new crowd, but still attracted to the food, the wine and the relaxed atmosphere.

When Mario died in 1980, his wife Elena and their two sons, Romeo and Fabio continued the business and the tradition of serving good wine and home-style Tuscan food. Romeo began learning to cook by watching his father, mother and grandmother in the home kitchen and at the trattoria, and when his mother retired he took over the cooking duties. Fabio runs the front of the house, greeting diners, pouring wine, and orchestrating the seating. When Romeo married Patrizia in 1981 she became part of the trattoria family as well.

While much stays the same at Mario's, things do change now and then. The kitchen was moved in the '70s to the now familiar glassed in booth where Romeo and his assistants perform. The soccer pictures change as the lineup of the Viola change from season to season. The University of Florence moved to a new suburban campus, so you will see more foreign students than Italian on a typical day. But if you stand across the street at 8 in the morning watching the butcher carry in a days supply of bistecca over his shoulder it could be 50 years ago and it would look the same.

Trattoria Mario continues as a family affair, as Romeo and Patrizia's two children, Carolina and Francesco now work here as well. Carolina serves customers and Francesco is in the kitchen learning the secrets of the family's ragù.