It would be easy to dismiss Remo’s as “another coffee shop”. For the last 18 years, however, he has established a somewhat cult following; ironic that a little store around the corner is a specialist in another cult icon, Dr Who.
“It’s constant – he tells me – this is the fourth incarnation of Remo’s since I opened. Each time has been down to a business necessity.” Remo is the antithesis of the Italian coffee master in the UK; where everyone searches for the twist of the third wave and Nordic simplicity, he brings a style uniquely his own and uniquely Italian.
“How could I do anything different? – he continues – everyone here knows I was born in Rotherham, raised between South Yorkshire and Italy, I’m the first generation son of Italian immigrant parents, back in the 70s, where you were from was more prominent than who you were, it’s just the way it was.”
He is one the firsts of what would become something of a cultural trend in the UK. A coffee place that appreciated what real coffee is and can be. A regular visit in the early 2000s and it was like a recreation of a more sober episode of Cheers. Everyone was a character, everyone knew each others name, everyone knew who Remo was.
They still do.
“I spent years with my back to the crowd. At Nonna’s (another Sheffield Italian institution) it was far less personal. Although I was ‘just coffee’ I was also creating something. They were a catalyst for what this was when I opened, it was the right place, people and idea.’
Fast forward to today, after another development in brand Remo’s and there is a return to some of the things that made him the name in Sheffield back when he started. “I’ve had to grow, the business had to as well. A lot changes in 18 years, my philosophy hasn’t, just how we go about doing it has.”
From establishing a kitchen in 2013, serving breakfasts and lunches and now Venetian style Cicchetti as well as osteria offerings in the evening, the upstairs play and refit is Remo bringing back that sense of built community; one that he would converse with and create a regular base from.
“Go to any Italian bar, the coffee is fast, the conversation is quick and the banter is plenty – I have brought that back now, after searching into my philosophy is that ever-present.”
This leafy, student side of Sheffield isn’t your hipster location, but then why does it have to be? Where the large commercial practices are trying to create a mini-Italy, Remo has done so without the massive budgets or branding experts standardising things. “When I started on this street, there was only one other coffee shop, now there are many, all on the same street. I’m not offering a coffee, I’m offering something more, it’s all part of my philosophy to make something from who I am and what I see.”
This is the story then of a person that is not only following a passion, but also, proudly presenting who he is. A product of immigration. A man who wants to represent the two communities he has been raised in, bringing a sense of what makes Italy, Italy and what makes South Yorkshire, South Yorkshire.
“My parents dream was to come to the UK, work hard and leave a legacy in some way, I’m no different.” That is the Remo’s story, a vision of a modern Europe, where being different makes us somewhat closer whether we realise it or not. Here in a corner of Sheffield there’s a piece of Italy, you couldn’t get closer than that.