“From a Dream to Reality” – a simple story of a boy from Rome in the world hospitality industry

I am lucky, very lucky, because I do what I love every day of my life. And this isn’t just some words I heard on the internet (as much as I like motivational speeches, I much prefer discipline and dedication), but a true meaningful path I slowly established through many years.

My career started at a very early age when, for the summer, I decided to leave my family business (fishmongers) to pursue a very simple job, a barista. The job was simple: assist an experienced “barista” in his duties early in the morning till late noon. I honestly already had built a little work ethic as my grandfather, with the help of his two sons/my mum & my uncle, made a 6-shop fish business and always talked to me about how important it was to keep things humble and real, focusing on true values instead of big steps into the unknown. My grandfather would be a full-time businessman until his 90th birthday and is still today my most incredible role model on how a small business should be run.

On the other hand, the other half of my family was all about music. My father is a composer, a 30-year touring musician who played with some of the most iconic singers of the 1980s and 90s (Laura Pausini being one of them). Art and music constantly run through my veins and today, more than ever, they are the blood that helps me keep going through life. I see them as a third dimension where I can feel safe or fragile, where feelings come to me and leave if I want them to.

I was a barista for a whole summer, working 5 days per week and getting paid €25 per day until school started again.

The next season, the owner asked me to run the “Aperitivo” as he liked my energy and, of course, I accepted (there was also a pay raise of €15 per day!!!). A whole new world opened up before my eyes. People drank alcohol and had a very different mood from the early mornings. I started to read about spritzes and Negronis, the two most popular drinks on the menu. There are many technical aspects I love about the “Aperitivo – hour”, its engaging;  its blending the idea of eating and drinking to socialize rather that just drink; it blends the idea of a low abv drink with quality & pairing. 

Here some of my favourite first drinks were executed (loooved the white wine spritz and of course.. “The Sbagliato” ..  a Negroni served tall with Prosecco!!!) 

Rome felt too small for me, and being a person who always seeks freedom (I still do in some kind of angles), I wanted to leave my dear city to begin MY journey. So I left for Wales. The main reason? I couldn’t understand the Beatles’ lyrics, and that truly drove me crazy.

As a young kid (I was JUST 18), all I wanted was to pursue my goals of independence. And to be independent, the first thing you have to understand is how to be economically “successful” or, better yet, how to survive in this society. In Wales, I experienced my first Christmas season in the hospitality industry, working 90 hours per week for 6 weeks. Damn, that hurt. It was the first time of many. 

London was next, and I immediately learned how difficult it was to move to such an expensive capital all by yourself (my mum helped out when I really needed it, and I will always be grateful for that! Grazie mamma!). But with my highs and lows, I made it and got a job as a part-time bartender in a big pub in Canary Wharf. From there, I would soon become a bar/floor supervisor, co-running a team of 20+ people in the front of house. I was 19 years old.

I moved to Manchester as my boss at that time became a GM in a very big, popular nightclub in the northern English city.

In Manchester, I encountered a place that completely changed my life professionally, a drink hub called “Socio Rehab”. There were 69 cocktails on the menu, and it was the coolest cocktail bar in the north of the UK. Only if you really wanted to be a bartender could you get the job. I was 20 years old, and it was time to play with the real cocktail makers. I was eager to work, learn, and lose. I partied a lot, studied like crazy (yes, I was that nerd who goes to work with different books and stuff), and, most of all, listened to people who were more experienced than me. This is the advice I always give to young, eager bartenders.

Queensland Highball
Queensland Highball

The only thing I was missing? Sun! I went to Barcelona for a trip and promised myself to go and live there within 1 year. So I did, and it was a blast! I got a job in 48 hours at an Italian bar, and believe it or not, that would be the only bar I would work at for almost 4 years. It was a fantastic experience that made me learn about dedication, friendship & hard work. 

After Spain, came Paris, the city of lights, where I had the opportunity to work with a real deal of the Italian cocktail making, a now friend and great mentor, Oscar Quagliarini.

Paris was great, but another opportunity came up almost a year later that I couldn’t refuse – opening my very first project. It was great, but in the wrong city! I found myself back in Rome, and while the pop-up we created was a fairly good place, I couldn’t see myself living in Rome. Oh, by the way, I was a father of a two-year-old little girl, just to spice up a young man’s life (I had just turned 26!)

I received a phone call from Manchester, and it was time to go back to my favourite city. After a year of consultancy and an incredible experience in Sri Lanka, I was back to opening bars and working for one of the most upcoming companies in the Manchester area. Together, we ended up opening 6 bars in two years, and I still have incredible memories with Lynd, Jobe, and Ross. Thanks again!

As a side business, I opened an event company called ‘Bark’ – a music, drinks, and event company that, in 2 years, organized 2 Music Festivals (called Gardenia) and more than 20 pop-up events, collaborating with around 15 international spirit brands.

My dear partner, wife, and love of my life received a job offer in Canada, and often a man has to make important decisions between family and self-made careers. I always listen to the people who love me, so I preferred to see my family happier and move (again and again) to the other side of the world.

I arrived in Canada with a very focused mindset, fired up from my newest life passion, Brazilian Jiu Jitzu – a martial art that helped me so much to truly understand the importance of endurance training on and off the mats.

After working in some of Toronto’s finest establishments, I finally opened my own bar in partnership with someone who is very close to my heart – Austin, a great business partner, but most importantly, a fantastic person.

In the past few years, I have had some good personal accomplishments, such as winning Best Canadian Bartender for World Class Diageo, and in the same year (2021), reaching the 5th place in the Global tournament. Mother Cocktail Bar reached number 38 in 2022 and number 37 in 2023 in the 50 Best North America awards (like the Oscars for our industry).

In November 2023, I was also humbled by another important award that is truly close to my heart and my origins – the ICCO Canada. For the very first time, the association opened an award for the best signature cocktail. As much as I’ve been traveling for the past 18 years, roots are roots, and I will always keep those simple values taught to me back in my earliest steps of life. And don’t forget your roots – it’s definitely an incredible part of it.

Don’t ever stop dreaming…

Massimo and ICCO Canada Co-President Tony Altomare at the 2023 Pentola d’Oro event.


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