Pizzeria partners with Jesuit church to feed the homeless

The first time I met Riccardo Fiori was at his restaurant, Delfino, on Mount Street, just around the corner from the Farm Street Jesuit church in central London. He was standing - socially-distanced of course – next to our table: attentive, at home in his own skin, a reassuring presence. Father Dominic Robinson, the parish priest, had just told him he’d be receiving another letter asking for help providing meals for those who are homeless. Riccardo immediately replied, ‘Don’t worry. Whatever you need, you can have.’

We are sitting at one of the tables in his restaurant, just before lockdown. It’s mid-morning, the pizza oven is warming up, the staff are getting ready for lunch, and I remind Riccardo of his generosity. He shrugs, a little embarrassed: ‘A generous nature, sure.’ But he’s keen not to take the credit. ‘It’s a family thing. It’s what we’ve always done. Not a tradition, but something you fit inside, and so I feel I want to help.’

Riccardo’s father, Serafino Fiori, came to London before the Second World War, and in 1952 set up a French game restaurant on the site where Delfino and Fino’s wine bar now stands. Serafino came from ‘a rural poor background in Italy, a God-fearing generation.’ There’s a family memory of Riccardo’s grandfather sitting down at the table in the evening. ‘Dizuma,’ he would say to his wife. ‘Let’s say it.’ And they would recite the rosary together.

Serafino’s first restaurant did well and in 1956 he bought another restaurant on Mount Street and then a wine cellar in the 1970s, and eventually owned ten restaurants in the area. At the same time he supported the Italian Church, St Peter’s in Clerkenwell and the Scalabrini Church in Brixton, and in the 1980s helped to found the Villa Scalabrini, a Catholic care home in Hertfordshire. So, I can see what Riccardo means when he says that helping the church is a family thing.

I ask Riccardo about his relationship with Farm Street Church. ‘My story with Farm Street goes back a long time,’ he says. ‘My sister was married there, my daughter made her first communion there, my son was baptised there. We’ve always known the priests. My first port of call, spiritual or otherwise, has always been Farm Street.’ Riccardo’s relationship with the church developed, when a few years ago he started providing meals for the night shelter, run from the parish hall. And when other arrangements fell through, the parish priest could rely on him. I said to them: ‘Whatever you need just call me, I’m always here.’

We get onto the topic of faith. ‘I feel great when I attend Mass,’ Riccardo says. ‘It’s a sustenance. It’s always there even when you don’t think about it.’ He’s silent for a moment. ‘A feeling of serenity I get from being in church.’ He looks at me and nods. There is a kinship created between us, a moment of communion as if we are both part of the same living church.

Blog by Sam Dixon, Jesuit Novice