Sort-of Secret: Rosalu, an Italian snack bar and café inside a Christie Pits laundromat

Sort-of Secret: Rosalu, an Italian snack bar and café inside a Christie Pits laundromat

Part of our series spotlighting the city’s edible hidden gems

The exterior of a laundromat-cafe on a snowy day

More Sort-of Secrets

The sort-of secret: Rosalu, a micro Italian snack bar and café in an unlikely location
You may have heard of it if: You live in Christie Pits, popped in to do a load of laundry and got more than you asked for
But you probably haven’t tried it because: It shares space with Spin Cycle Coin Laundry, and the owners prefer walk-ins and word-of-mouth to social media virality

The aroma of fresh tomato sauce commingling with the smell of dryer sheets was not what first attracted Michelle Saturnino to the laundromat near her house as the location for Rosalu, the café and bodega she now runs with her sister, Natalie. But the idea of this strange olfactory union—something so distinctly Nonna’s house—was definitely a selling feature. “Our parents both emigrated to Canada from Italy with their families. While we are Canadian born; we grew up in Little Italy, and every Sunday we would gather at my nonna’s house for dinner. There was nothing like the smells coming out of that kitchen.”

Two women stand behind the counter of a cafe
Sisters and café co-owners Michelle (left) and Natalie Saturnino

Though Michelle and Natalie ended up running Scaccia—their family’s restaurant, which has been serving stuffed Sicilian sandwiches to Yorkville office workers and Manulife Centre movie-goers for over 30 years—their path to the industry wasn’t typical. “My parents weren’t chefs when they opened the restaurant. My mom, Franca, was a stay-at-home mother, and my dad, Georgio, was a television editor, working for CTV on Charles Street,” says Michelle. “He used to come home and complain to my mom that there was nowhere to grab lunch near his office. On a whim, he decided that he was going to open a restaurant, basically to meet his own needs.”

Looking out the front window from the inside of a cafe

A woman working inside a café smiles through the window

With a full belly, Georgio continued his career as an editor, and everyone else in the family ended up running the show at Scaccia. “My sister and I have worked there since we were 15 years old,” says Michelle. Now, Natalie is very hands-on at Scaccia, doing everything from food prep to recipe development to serving customers. Michelle is more behind the scenes, working out of her dad’s office space at Dupont and Christie. “I was walking around the area one day looking for a quick lunch and a good cup of coffee. After Faema Café closed, there just wasn’t anywhere to go.” So, naturally, like her father did 30 years ago, Michelle called up her sister and told her they needed to open a place of their own. “We have high standards,” Michelle laughs.

Washing and drying machines at a laundromat

A soap-dispenser and washing machines inside a laundromat

Natalie agreed and sent Michelle off on a hunt for the right space. “I was on my way to the tailor, and I happened to see that one of the laundromat’s windows was papered up, which I took to mean that the space was potentially available. I peeked my head in and got the owner’s phone number from someone who was cleaning the laundromat. I just had a really good feeling about it. A week later, we signed a lease.” While the businesses are completely independent of each other, they are definitely complementary. “Who doesn’t want to sip on a comforting latte while waiting for laundry to dry?” asks Natalie.

Italian scaccia

Two rectangular slices of pizza

Dedicated to keeping cost down and quality up, Michelle and Natalie pack their 80 square feet of café space with a combination of snacks, pastries, grab-and-go lunches and, of course, scaccia. “At first we thought we were just going to have coffee, our sandwiches and a few pastries,” says Michelle. “But there are so many schools nearby, so we figured we’d start carrying some school-day essentials for the kids.” In addition to freshly baked cookies, muffins, tarts and loaves, the sisters Saturnino stock the shelves with gummy candies, Pop Rocks, Pocky Sticks, instant oatmeal, ramen and their own brand of tomato sauce, Thank Frank. And while the scaccia of all varieties—sausage, margherita—are the stars, the saucy and cheesy homemade lasagna and slabs of pizza play delicious supporting roles.

A display case full of baked goods

Shelves stocked with chocolate, candy, tomato sauce and coffee

As far as the coffee goes, the sisters serve up Italian brand Trucillo in to-go cups that are designed with colourful drawings by Michelle’s budding-artist daughter. “We make sure to ask our customers how they like their coffee,” says Natalie. “It’s all about ratio.” And though proportion may be key when it comes to espresso-based beverages, this tiny shop tucked into a laundromat is bound to do more than its share of—ahem—cleaning up.

Stacks of colourful paper coffee cups

The front counter of a cafe in Toronto

Looking out the window to the street from inside a laundromat