City cafe owner sells up for round-the-world trip

A cafe owner dedicated to delivering traditional Italian cuisine for more than 20 years has sold his coffee shop so he can embark on a globe-trotting trip.

Roberto Cimelli is handing over the keys of the Cafe Italia coffee shop on Orford Street to new South African owners.

The 65-year-old, who owned Sasses restaurant on Thorpe Road from 1989 to 2004, is taking a break with his wife in order to spend a year visiting places as far-flung as Africa and Canada.

Mr Cimelli, from Cringleford, said: 'After all the years of hard work, to now think we are leaving it all behind makes me feel a bit sad, especially when I think of our customers. But you start to wonder how long you can go on for, so we decided to take a gap year like students.'

The Italian restaurateur took his first steps into the hospitality industry at 17, after moving from his homeland to London. He went on to open a pizza and pasta catering firm in the late sixties and was one of the first people to put fresh pizzas on the shelves of the big-brand supermarkets.

But it was his desire for a fresh start in 1989 that led him to Norwich where he bought the 1920's themed restaurant, Sasses.

He eventually sold the business in 2004 to take over Cafe Italia and says many of his loyal customers followed him there.

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Mr Cimelli said: 'Doing catering makes it very difficult to take time off. I used to get a maximum of two weeks a year. But now I am looking forward to travelling and going back to Italy to visit Rome and Sardinia.'

Meanwhile, the new owners of Cafe Italia have spoke of their desire to build on the success of Mr Cimelli. South-African Peter Gardner, who took on the business with his 26-year-old son Justin and wife Gillian, agreed to keep the same staff at the cafe, but hopes to introduce South African specials in the future.

He said: 'Our aspirations are not to change the foundations they have put down, but we are going to extend the opening hours on a Sunday from 10am until 4pm and extend the hours on a Thursday night.'

Do you have a story about a new business opening in Norwich? Call reporter Ben Woods on 01603 772439.