STUDENTS from across Oxford are queuing up for calzone and other snacks at an Italian café in the city centre.

Stefano Loi and his wife Madina opened the ItaliAmo café in Broad Street in November, despite the coronavirus pandemic, after long-serving sandwich bar Mortons closed.

Father-of-four Mr Loi, from Sardinia, said he was delighted his calzone – oven-baked folded pizzas with different fillings – and focaccia sandwiches were proving so popular.

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He said: “Students really like our calzone and our fresh focaccia and we do calzone with different fillings – vegetarian, beef and ham and mushroom.

“Some of the students are from colleges on Woodstock and Banbury Roads and they keep coming back – they don’t seem to mind queuing outside for a little while because they really like the food.”

ItaliAmo on Broad Street, Oxford. Picture: Ed Nix

ItaliAmo on Broad Street, Oxford. Picture: Ed Nix

Mr Loi said he came from ‘the middle of the island of Sardinia’ and the calzone recipe was one his grandfather taught him.

“We make them ourselves and the dough takes 24 hours to prepare,” he added.

The café owner arrived in the UK in 1998 and has worked in catering for many years including a number of restaurants in London.

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He added: “I left Sardinia with a background of cooking – I have been doing this since I was a teenager.”

The couple live in Headington and the café is run by a small team which is likely to expand when the café opens its garden with a grill bar.

ItaliAmo on Broad Street, Oxford. Picture: Ed Nix

ItaliAmo on Broad Street, Oxford. Picture: Ed Nix

Mrs Loi added: “We have got 14 bar stools upstairs – it’s a small space, but we can fit 42 covers in the garden so we are looking forward to opening that this summer, and we can cook lasagne and parmigiana dishes.

The business is also applying for an alcohol licence.

Mrs Loi said: “Of course we were nervous about starting this business in the middle of a pandemic but we are very pleased with the reaction from our customers.

“There aren’t many tourists around at the moment so it’s mainly students and local residents.”

Some tables are also provided at the front of the café and Mrs Loi said the city council was helpful when it came to advising on the necessary pavement licence.

Mrs Loi said she and her husband were nervous launching the café as her job managing Air B&B properties was lost as a result of the lockdowns.

ItaliAmo on Broad Street, Oxford. Picture: Ed Nix

ItaliAmo on Broad Street, Oxford. Picture: Ed Nix

She added: “We were very nervous about it and I think we were brave to launch in the middle of a pandemic but people like the product – our food is very popular and it’s good value too – you can get a calzone, coffee and a sweet for £10.

“Our main customers are the students but we also get teaching staff from the university.

“Sometimes customers have to wait 15 or 20 minutes but they don’t seem to mind.

Mrs Loi said Mortons had occupied the unit for many years until it closed.

She added: “We lease the café from the city council but I think the building is owned by Trinity College. We are really looking forward to opening up the garden area this summer.”