Ottawa's Italian businesses feel effects of lockdown, from prosciutto to guided tours

Ottawa businesses that rely on travel to and trade with Italy say they are beginning to feel the effects of the country's lockdown in response to the coronavirus.

Antonio Mauriello, an Ottawa man who owns Savour Italy Tours, says all of his trips this spring have been cancelled. In a typical year, Mauriello takes hundreds of tourists to Italy each season to experience the country's culture and cuisine.

"After building a business for so many years, I see everything collapsing in a matter of days," said Mauriello on Tuesday.

Italy announced Monday it was putting the entire country under lockdown in an effort to reduce the spread of the virus. People there are only allowed to travel for work and medical reasons until April 3.

Mauriello says April, May and June make up the high season for Canadians travelling to Italy and "100 per cent" of his clients have cancelled their trips.

"What is left is a bit of September and October which is the other peak season and half of them have cancelled also for September, which is a major concern for us," said Mauriello.

Mauriello, who is originally from Rome, has been operating his tour business out of Ottawa for the past 15 years.

Submitted by Antonio Mauriello
Submitted by Antonio Mauriello

Savour Italy Tours has four employees in Ottawa and two in Italy and Mauriello fears he will have to lay them off.

"I'm swamped by decisions to make every second," he said.

La Bottega Nicastro plans for supply disruption

In Ottawa's ByWard Market, the owner of an Italian fine food store said he's also monitoring the situation in Italy, where the vast majority of his products come from.

Pat Nicastro, owner of La Bottega Nicastro, said he got confirmation on Monday that a major food show he attends in northern Italy each year has been cancelled.

"For us it was an important show because we do all our buying for the year — we meet our suppliers, we look at new products," said Nicastro.


Nicastro is already considering finding Canadian alternatives to some products, such as prosciutto, if he can't get them from Italy.

But that wouldn't be ideal, he said.

"You can't replace the authenticity of some of these products like the real parmigiano-reggiano that only comes from that area or the real balsamic vinegar that only comes from that area," he said.

Nicastro said he's hopeful products will continue to come out of Italy but he does think there may be some "adjustments with prices" if there's no stock available.

"It's serious but they say business will go on and they're saying the factories are open. They're still going to send out food," said Nicastro.

"Italy needs [to] export and food is one of the biggest items that come out of Italy. So we're confident that they'll get back on track and have some stuff for us."