A little piece of Italy in Voortrekker Road

Americo Zuccato took over the reins at Harlequin after its founder, Angelo Inzadi, retired eight years ago.

For 51 years, Harlequin restaurant has lit Voortrekker Road with its name illuminated in neon letters.

It has also filled the tummies of many people who have become regulars at the restaurant that will, for most, be the closest they come to experiencing a little piece of Italy.

Your eyes have to adjust when you enter the dimly lit restaurant on a sunny afternoon. The interior is spacious and comfortable with wooden tables covered with white tablecloths.

The size of the restaurant is misleading as you discover, after walking through the small reception area crammed with tables and a bar, that there are stairs leading to a large room filled with many more tables and completed with a wall featuring two faux brick arches framing a giant mural of Lake Maggiore.

“Each table gets a real rose,” says Americo Zuccato in a heavy Italian accent.

The 69-year-old lives in Welgemoed and has been running the place for several years. Gesturing with his hands and face, he explains how the founder of the restaurant, Angelo Inzadi, asked him to help out with the business as he approached the autumn years of his life.

“In 2008, he called me and asked if I could help him run the restaurant for a few months. After the few months, he asked if I would take over the restaurant and I agreed,” said Mr Zuccato.

No stranger to the restaurant business, Mr Zuccato was born in a room above a restaurant in Italy. After visiting South Africa on holiday in the 1980s, he liked the place so much he said “arrivederci” to Italy and settled in Cape Town. It was during these years that he became acquainted with Mr Inzadi and even worked with him a bit.

Mr Inzadi died earlier this year, but his legacy lives on. Sally Kouter, who has been working for the restaurant for 32 years, described her previous boss as “a very good man”.

As Ms Kouter speaks, she rolls and folds dough into intricate little balls. She prepares these every day so patrons are served fresh bread once seated.

“There’s a family atmosphere here with the customers. I’ve been working here since I was 18 years old,” she says.

Sydia Fotchane has been working at the restaurant for 28 years. She worked her way up from a cleaner to cook through the help of Mr Inzadi and the chefs.

“I was always interested in Italian cuisine. One day, I said I also want to learn how to cook their food and they started teaching me,” said Ms Fotchane.

Mr Zuccato also cooks for the restaurant when time allows. He says some of the customer favourites include saltimbocca alla Romana “a pure Italian dish” made with veal, prosciutto and sage or basil, and the Wiener Schnitzel which is popular because of its hearty portion.

“There is always a market for Italian restaurants,” he says, matter of factly.

“We have stayed open for business for so many years because we maintain reasonable prices, and we always serve fresh fish. Our regular customers are like family here,” he says.

The walls of the restaurant, adorned with photos of smiling happy people are testament to the family atmosphere.

Looking at the smiling faces you understand why, after more than half a century, the Harlequin has become an institution in Parow that will no doubt be filling tummies in 50 years to come.