Paradise in Rome?


Avocado Bar

A shift in tradition or a trend that'll soon pass?

As you walk down the narrow, uneven cobblestone street of Via della Madonna dei Monti in Rome’s hip Monti neighbourhood you’re surrounded by Italian buildings from different ages. Buildings that house generations and are home to street level bars and restaurants. Just a ten-minute walk from the Colosseum, the last thing you’d expect to find is a cafe devoted to avocado.

Yet, there it is. Nestled right between a refurbished hotel and what appears to be a library cafe – Avocado Bar. The restaurant’s name is written on a chalkboard that carelessly hangs from the arched entryway. Large palm like leaves frame the door and quietly offset the cream brick wall. As you enter you feel like you’re stepping into a health-conscious cafe in Bali. You know, the ones straight off your Instagram feed? Regardless, it’s safe to say it doesn’t look like the entrance next door.

So how does this oasis-like cafe exist? If you were to have asked an Italian if avocado was a part of their diet five years ago the answer you’d likely get would be no; followed by, “What’s avocado?” So, what shifted?

For one, the growing global food system has caused a radical rise in avocado consumption. Simultaneously, recent droughts, wildfires and farmer strikes have resulted in an avocado shortage. Prices continue to increase yet intake is still escalating. According to the Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries, imports of avocados to the European market have more than doubled from 2012 to 2016.

Enter Avocado Bar – a title co-founder Francesco Santilli is very proud of.

“We wanted to bring the new-found superfood power of avocados to Rome; the most beautiful city in the world,” Santilli says. The 30-year-old Rome native and his small team of fellow investors provide a refreshing break from traditional Roman cuisine from 11:30 a.m. - 11 p.m. every day.

Avocado Bar hosts a seasonal menu packed with poke bowls, avocado burgers, green smoothies and avocado toast – five kinds of avocado toast. There’s even avocado ice cream. Regardless of your menu selection, you’re bound to get mounds of the vibrant fruit – so much that you’d never know there was a shortage.

Every day, hundreds of Italians and tourists alike visit Santilli’s cafe. At first glance, it seems to be a cafe devoted to hipster millennials. But visit around 1 p.m. and you’ll encounter a slightly different scene: Italians grabbing a quick lunch, young moms with their babies in strollers and curious tourists stopping for their share of the creamy fruit.

Chiara, a young Italian woman, was there for a break from traditional Roman dishes. She owns a shop down the street and frequents the cafe on a weekly basis.

“It’s an innovative thing in Rome – it’s like the kind of bars I would find in London. Or the healthy food I’d find in Leon,” she says. “It’s in a historical place where I can eat lunch then take a walk through the Forum Imperiale. I can feel the Roman history as I walk down the street. Then I enter a whole new world – a modern cafe with healthy food.”

Chiara’s inclination to embrace new food trends is a prime example of the social shift occurring in Italy, a country renowned for staying true to tradition. Though your neighbourhood nonna may not be steering away from Roman dishes like Bucatini all’amatriciana, Coda alla Vaccinara or Carciofi alla Romana, one can’t deny things are shifting in the Eternal City.

Santilli explains, “Our patrons have welcomed more than avocado in their life – they’ve embraced change, a new way of thinking about food, tradition and life.”

Avocado Bar’s team of young founders capitalized on this new food trend at the right time. While the fruits popularity is definitely an asset, they must be doing something right with their 18,600 followers on Instagram and plans to open two new locations, one in Milan and one in Bologna. To top it all off, they’ve partnered with food delivery startups, foodora, glovo and delivroo, to bring avocado straight to your door. Can’t get much trendier than that.

Santilli says this is just the beginning. He plans to further capitalize on this social shift by opening Murakami, the world’s first sushi boat restaurant. Sushi, a newly welcomed dish in Rome, will be delivered to patrons by boat in the sea off the island of Ponza – an unspoiled retreat off the Italian coast.