At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

Mario Pavesi – entrepreneur

Biscuit maker who gave Italian motorists the Autogrill


Mario Pavesi began making  biscuits in 1934
Mario Pavesi began making
biscuits in 1934
Italy lost one of its most important post-War entrepreneurs when Mario Pavesi died on this day in 1990.

Pavesi, originally from the town of Cilavegna in the province of Pavia in Lombardy, not only founded the Pavesi brand, famous for Pavesini and Ringo biscuits among other lines, but also set up Italy’s first motorway service areas under the name of Autogrill.

Always a forward-thinking businessman, Pavesi foresaw the growing influence American ideas would have on Italy during the rebuilding process in the wake of the Second World War and the way that Italians would embrace road travel once the country developed its own motorway network.

He was one of the first Italian entrepreneurs to take full advantage of advertising opportunities in the press, radio, cinema and later television. 

Born in 1909 into a family of bakers, Pavesi moved to Novara in 1934, opening a pastry shop in Corso Cavour, where he sold a range of cakes and confectionery and served coffee. During the next few years, until Italy became embroiled in the war, he expanded the business in several ways.

By the time hostilities interrupted normal life, he had gone into production with Biscottini di Novara, a traditional biscuit made from eggs, flour and sugar that had been around since the 16th century but had never before been produced as a commercial product.

The company's famous ad, proclaiming that "It's always Pavesini time".
The company's famous ad, proclaiming that
"It's always Pavesini time".
Pavesi took an interest in American tastes at the end of the conflict and in the immediate aftermath, when the occupying US military used to share supplies. It was after comparing traditional Italian biscuits with the ones the soldiers were handing round that he decided to travel to the United States on a fact-finding mission.

On his return, he devised a product that was based on the same traditional ingredients but was lighter and easier to digest, which he called Pavesini.  The product became a huge success, based on an advertising campaign that used the slogan: “It’s always Pavesini time".

As well as Pavesini, the company made crackers. In time, Pavesi introduced more winning lines such as his Ringo biscuits – one plain biscuit, one cocoa-flavoured, with a sweet filling – and the chocolate-covered Togo.

Pavesi’s ideas for roadside refreshment outlets grew from what he had encountered in America too, although he was not so much thinking of the needs of motorists so much as selling his biscuits that he decided, in 1947, to open a bar and café next to the A4 Turin-Milan highway, which passed close to the outskirts of Novara, not far from his factory.

Pavesi's Autogrill, straddling the motorway near Novara
Pavesi's Autogrill, straddling the motorway near Novara
Car ownership in Italy was small at the time – only one vehicle for every 100 people – so turnover was modest initially, but as the post-War economic recovery began to take hold, so more cars began passing his kiosk, and more of them stopped. Pavesi added more tables, a bigger covered area, and designated part of it as a restaurant, serving hot meals. Italy’s first Autogrill was born.

Far-sighted as ever, Pavesi knew he was on to a winner and began to look for other locations along the country’s highway network, which began to grow at a rapid rate in the 50s and 60s as the car manufacturers concentrated on the mass production of affordable, economy cars for ordinary Italians to drive.

Pavesi enlisted the help of architects, in particular the urban designer Angelo Bianchetti, who conceived the idea of restaurants that straddled both lanes of the motorway, great glass and steel structures supported by enormous girders, which had the advantage of being accessible to drivers on both sides of the highway.

The first of these, opened at Fiorenzuola d'Arda, between Parma and Piacenza, in 1959, was the first of its kind in Europe.  On many occasions, particularly lunchtime on Sundays, it would see every table taken, not just by passing travellers but by local people intrigued by the idea of cars racing beneath them as they ate.

Mario Pavesi (left), with the architect Angelo Bianchetti, who designed many of the Autogrills
Mario Pavesi (left), with the architect Angelo
Bianchetti, who designed many of the Autogrills
The original restaurant outside Novara, at Veveri, was transformed along similar lines in 1962.

In the 1970s, Pavesi found competition from Motta and Alemagna in a rapidly expanding market, and by then there were more than 200 rest areas across the 3,900km (2,450 miles) network of motorways.

The boom was threatened by the oil crisis of the 1970s, which plunged all three companies into crisis, but state intervention saved the day, with the catering sections of all three companies becoming part of a new state-run entity, Autogrill SpA.

The Pavesi brand is now owned by the Barilla group.

Pavesi passed away after a heart attack in Rocca di Papa, one of the Castelli Romani towns in the Alban Hills, some 25km (16 miles) southeast of Rome.

The enormous cupola of the Basilica of San
Gaudenzio dwarfs the ball tower
Travel tip:

The city of Novara, where Pavesi opened his first bakery and store, a little more than 20km (12 miles) from his home town of Cilavegna, is the second largest city in Piedmont after Turin, with a population of just over 100,000. It is notable for its attractive historic centre, at the heart of which is the Piazza della Repubblica, where visitors can find the Broletto, an arcaded courtyard around which are clustered a number of palaces housing a civic museum and art gallery and the town hall, as well as the 19th century neo-classical cathedral designed by Alessandro Antonelli, who was responsible also for the city’s major landmark, the Basilica of San Guadenzio, with its tall multi-tiered cupola, which stands 121m (397ft) high.

Rocca di Papa from Piazza della Repubblica
Rocca di Papa from Piazza della Repubblica
Travel tip:

Rocca di Papa, where Pavesi died, is a town of around 16,000 people and one of a group of communities in the Alban Hills southeast of Rome known as the Castelli Romani – the Roman Castles.  Built on a rocky outcrop, it is the site of a papal fortress once the home of Pope Eugene III, on top of which is built the Royal Geodynamic Observatory.  The town suffered considerable damage during bombing in the Second World War, after it was used as a strategic stronghold by the occupying German army, but has undergone substantial reconstruction since.

More reading:

The former peasant farmer who founded the Lavazza coffee company

How Karl Zuegg made his name synonymous with jam and juice

Francesco Cirio - Italy's canning pioneer

Also on this day:

1905: The birth of Enrico Piaggio: the man behind the Vespa scooter

1921: The birth of Giulietta Masina - the actress who married Fellini















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