Salvo's Leeds: Meet Gip Dammone of one of the city's best-loved Italian restaurants
When customers sit down to dine at Salvo's, Gip Dammone wants them to "kick their shoes off under the table" like they're at home.
Perhaps not literally, but the Dammone family's simple ethos of delicious food, served in a warm atmosphere, is what has brought customers coming back for more than 45 years.
Gip and his brother John run one of Leeds' best-loved dining institutions, founded by their late father Salvatore in 1976.
Salvo's has served more than a million pizzas since it opened in Headingley's Otley Road and the restaurant takes its Italian heritage very seriously.
"When we opened in 1976, there were no tables for two," Gip told the Yorkshire Evening Post.
"You had to share a table - it was the ethos that my father brought over from Italy. Food there is about conviviality, it’s about sharing, it’s about love."
Gip works with head chef Oliver Edwards to craft Salvo's menu, with a focus on using simple ingredients that are cooked with care.
His first adventures in cooking started with raiding the fridge after school while waiting for his parents to return home from their Stanningley coffee shop.
“My mother was an old-fashioned Italian woman and there was no weekly shopping," the 66-year-old added.
"I’d come home peckish at 4pm and the only thing we’d have in was eggs. I started messing around with eggs, doing everything I could with them - which wasn’t much. That was my first dabbling with cooking."
Gip left school at 16 to study catering at Thomas Danby College, but after six months he was poached by his father to work at the family's pizzeria in Salerno, southern Italy.
He was thrown into the kitchen with chefs who "looked 100 years old", as Salvatore proudly announced his son, 'the chef', would be joining the team.
"My three years in Italy was a baptism of fire and I learnt a lot," Gip added.
“The things that are important to us here, it’s the opposite in Italy. Here, we might think fancy garnishes or methodology are sophisticated. But in Italy, they want to know which bay the fish was caught in, or whether the vegetables were pulled out of the ground that morning.
“Before the pandemic, I took my chefs to Italy frequently. I loved bringing them to see what’s really important.”
Gip worked at several Italian restaurants on his return to the UK, before joining his family to open Salvo's.
Four decades later, the restaurant has been spruced up and there are, of course, now tables for two - but the Dammone philosophy remains unchanged.
"We believe in tradition and we believe in good products, treated simply and with care," Gip said.
"What we’re selling is deliciousness, whether it’s fish, a plate of macaroni or a pizza.
"In our 40 years of being in Headingley, we’ve built up a fantastic network of friends - from the shops we use to our customers.
“Throughout this sad pandemic, we’ve been totally supported by regular customers who have gone out of their way to spend money with us. Community is everything to us, and this pandemic has proved that.
"We’d be nowhere without the customers.”
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