Mafia Sandwiches

Little did the Austrian restaurant know, to the Italians, the dark underworld of the Mafia is not a laughing matter

Never have the names of sandwiches caused so much cultural uproar | Photo: Don Panino’s Facebook page

The offending menu described one sandwich, called Don ­Peppino, as “a big-mouthed ­Sicilian, cooked by a bomb, like a chicken in a barbecue.” | Photo: Don Panino’s Facebook page

The Italian hero Don Falcone, here billed as “the greatest enemy of the Mafia in ­Palermo, ­unfortunately grilled like a ­sausage.” | Photo: Panorama

Never have the names of sandwiches caused so much cultural uproar

Never have the names of sandwiches caused so much cultural uproar | Photo: Don Panino’s Facebook page

Through the dirty windows of an abandoned storefront at Seidengasse 31, you can just make out the dark shiny floor tiles and newly painted yellow walls. Only a couple of white boxes piled inside provide some clue of the former eatery Don Panino.

Neighbors tell how the eatery used to sell pasta, olive oil and prosciutto, sandwiches – takeaway or delivery – all with quirky Italian names. They never paid much attention to the details.

Others did, and that was the issue. The menu was all about the Mafia: The sandwiches were named after mobsters and activists and even victims of the Italian underworld.

It was just a marketing tool, explained shop owners Julia and Marco Marchetta to the Italian media. It never occurred to them that somebody would mind.

 

A diplomatic incident

When the case of Don Panino exploded at the beginning of June – nearly causing a diplomatic incident between Austria and Italy – the eatery had already been closed for months, although deliveries continued.

However, following coverage in the Italian press, the Italian embassy in Vienna intervened on behalf of Foreign Minister Emma Bonino, and on 8th June Italy made an official complaint to the Austrian Ministry of Economic Affairs and the City of Vienna protesting “the use of Mafia victims for marketing purposes”.

The satirical depictions on Don Panino’s menu were “unacceptable”, Bonino said, and “highly offensive” towards people who have sacrificed their own lives to fight against the Mafia.

So how was it that a small eatery became a cause célèbre among politicians, diplomats and media across Europe?

It all began with some advertising flyers that arrived in Vienna mailboxes in October 2012, explained Paolo Federico, as we met over a coffee one evening in June. A research assistant in Vienna, and blogger for Vivere Vienna (which covers Italian expat life in the Austrian capital), Federico has led protests against the restaurant.

“I had a quick look at the fliers – one of them, from Don Panino, showed a man dressed as a stereotypical Mafia mobster with a ‘coppola’ (a newsie cap),” he remembered. Then he read the menu. “My first reaction was incredulity. I thought it was a joke.”

One sandwich was named Don Peppino, “a big-mouthed Sicilian, cooked by a bomb like a chicken in a barbecue.” Another, Don Falcone, was billed as “the greatest enemy of the Mafia in Palermo, unfortunately grilled like a sausage.”

 

Defending national honour

The Italian hero Don Falcone, here billed as “the greatest enemy of the Mafia in ­Palermo, ­unfortunately grilled like a ­sausage.”  | Photo: Panorama

The Italian hero Don Falcone, here billed as “the greatest enemy of the Mafia in ­Palermo, ­unfortunately grilled like a ­sausage.” | Photo: Panorama

Other references were either to Mafia mobsters, such as Frank Costello, or murder victims like informant Tommaso Buschetta.

Don Falcone is Giovanni Falcone, the celebrated public prosecutor who first identified the real organizational system of the Sicilian Mafia (Cosa Nostra), assassinated by the Cosa Nostra in 1992 in the Capaci bomb attack.

‘Don Peppino’ refers to Giuseppe Impastato, a young journalist and anti-Mafia activist, who was brutally killed aged only 30 in 1978, by the clan boss Tano Badalamenti who lived only few steps from his parents’ home.

All are now considered heroes of recent Italian history.

After finding the Don Panino’s flyer in his postbox, Paolo Federico began noticing internet postings by other Italian expats in Vienna complaining about the restaurant’s advertising.

Together, they placed an online protest in causes.com, calling for the boycott of the eatery with a petition aimed at bringing the case to the attention of Austrian authorities.

“It’s more than just defending national honour,” Federico said. “We felt compelled to preserve the memory of people such as Giovanni Falcone and Peppino Impastato.” Many businesses use the Mafia commercially, he knew, not just in Vienna. “But what Don Panino’s owners did goes much further: They made fun of the Mafia crimes.”

Still, the online protest reached only a small audience. The case gained momentum only after Federico contacted journalist, Andrea D’Addio, who published an article in the widely-read Italian news magazine Panorama. The Italian blogger from Vivere Vienna confirmed that “the owners […] are of Italian origin… according to the Austrian commercial register.” But “it has never been our intention to create an Italy vs. Austria issue.”

The protests focused on the unintended consequences: Reducing the Mafia’s crimes to banal irony suggests a sort of harmless puppetry or to mere folklore, Federico said.

However, there is nothing amusing or folkloric about the criminal phenomenon of the Mafia, insists German journalist and Mafia-expert Petra Reski.

A complex system involved in trafficking drugs, arms and people, political corruption and money laundering, the Mafia is a subversive, anti-state culture, she writes, deeply rooted in the regions where it was born, influencing political life, and damaging the economies of the areas where it is takes root.

A secret society that sings and dances

The offending menu described one sandwich, called Don ­Peppino, as “a big-mouthed ­Sicilian, cooked by a bomb, like a chicken in a barbecue.” | Photo: Don Panino’s Facebook page

The offending menu described one sandwich, called Don ­Peppino, as “a big-mouthed ­Sicilian, cooked by a bomb, like a chicken in a barbecue.” | Photo: Don Panino’s Facebook page

According to the annual report of the Italian business association “Confesercenti” (“SOS Impresa”, XIII Edition, 2012) the Mafia phenomenon accounts for more than seven per cent of Italian GDP and has a turnover of about €140 billion. Active beyond Italy, the Mafia is a global issue, as the 2007 Duisburg (Germany) massacre demonstrated. The Ndrangheta (Calabrian Mafia) owns over 300 pizzerias in Germany.

“Since the Mafia cannot deny any longer its own existence, it tries to transfigure itself into folklore: a secret society that sings and dances in its hideaways,” Reski writes.

Federico is still surprised by the intensity of the protest. “When we decided to post… we did not expect it would provoke the reaction that it eventually did, nor a diplomatic intervention by the Italian Government,” he said.

The eatery Don Panino is now closed and the menu removed by the online delivery services (lieferservice.at, mjam.at, willessen.at). Following the protests, Sonia Alfano, member of the EU Parliament and President of the anti-Mafia Committee, called for initiatives to prevent the use of the concept of the Mafia for commercial purposes at European level.

All in all, Federico is very pleased. “What counts is that our initiative promoted a public and international discussion on a topic that deserves the greatest attention.” ÷

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