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Antico Vinaio, the full experience

All’antico Vinaio has seemingly taken the world by storm.

With 800,000 followers on Instagram, 500,000 on TikTok, and more than 10 locations in Italy and the United States, what was once a small Florentine sandwich shop is now an ever-expanding business.

The story of All’Antico Vinaio begins with the purchase of a small locale that had been operating since the '60s on Via dei Neri in 1989 by the Mazzanti family. It’s merely a few minutes away from Piazza della Signoria and Piazza del Duomo, right in the middle of the historic center. It wasn’t until 2006 that the current owner and son of the original Mazzanti owners, Tommaso ‘Tommy’ Mazzanti, came into the picture and transformed All’Antico Vinaio as we know it today.

Tommy’s Takeover

After Tommy’s entrance, it became a street food hotspot within Florence. Specializing in savory and jam-packed Schiacciata bread sandwiches (not to be confused with focaccia) that were reasonably priced, along with a strong social media presence and great location led to its explosion in fame. Slowly their motto, “Bade Come la Fuma” (Look how it smokes), went from Tuscan slang to synonymous with the restaurant in Italy and worldwide. It can also be found on shirts, hats, and even slippers in their shop.

Between 2013 and 2017, they bought a locale next to the original shop and two in front to maintain the high demand. Eventually, more All’Antico Vinaio locations started appearing in other cities; Rome, Milan, and Turin among others. Tommy’s ambition even took the restaurant outside of Italy, testing the waters in the United States with a pop-up in Manhattan. According to Forbes, they sold 400 sandwiches in the first three hours, making it clear that interest in the Florentine sandwiches had reached across the ocean.

Now they’ve got locations in New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, still looking to expand. While Tommaso Mazzanti’s efforts are definitely commendable to the point that they have received media attention from the likes of Business Insider and The New Yorker and having some of the best reviews on TripAdvisor, it still left me wondering: Are these sandwiches as good as they say, or is it all hype?

On the Ground

Having heard about this phenomenon I took the opportunity to go while visiting Florence. I asked some local acquaintances I had made what they thought and heard mainly two things: “Overvalued” and “Expensive.” I expected to get these responses, especially from people who lived in Florence, a city that attracts thousands of visitors every year, and it is not unusual for locals to be wary of places that attract such a large number of tourists. It was also, admittedly, a rather limited group. With this in mind, I was still committed to finding out for myself.

I headed to the site of their original business and the three immediate additions. It was fairly busy for 7 pm on a Sunday night. The line took about five minutes luckily, as in peak seasons and times it can take up to an hour. I was surprised to see that the sandwiches averaged from 7 to 11 Euros, while menus from two years back had shown some as low as five. Still, the atmosphere was fun and lively, with people speaking all sorts of languages and dialects ordering their own schiacciata sandwiches.

The people working there also bantered with each other and the clients while quickly moving them along to get their order and sit down or move on. On my way out I heard some people speaking English, and they were kind enough to answer some of my questions. While they hadn’t started eating yet, I did ask them where they’d heard about the sandwiches; they shared that it had been their tour guide.

I ordered La Paradiso, consisting of “Mortadella, pistachio cream and stracciatella and chopped pistachios.” It cost a total of 10 Euros and I received a behemoth of a sandwich. The mortadella and pistachio cream poked out between the slices of bread. I took my first bite, not knowing what to expect...It was alright.

The flavor was overflowing with an obscene amount of each ingredient pushed between the slices. It made sense why it was 10 euros, because they put as much as they could. While it definitely packed a punch, that didn’t necessarily make it tasty. By the time I was done I was definitely full, and also left with an overpowering and nauseating aftertaste of ingredients I usually enjoyed.

But, I also noticed that everybody around me was eating their sandwiches, and without complaint. They were taking pictures, talking with their friends, or walking off into the nearby historical sights after throwing away the leftover red-lettered Antico Vinaio wrapping paper. They definitely seemed satisfied.

Maybe I chose the wrong sandwich 

Maybe my sense of taste is broken, but I didn’t find the sandwich’s taste special or even above average. Still, what they lacked in taste they definitely made up in originality. Regardless of my opinion, All'Antico Vinaio has been extremely successful in what they’ve set out to do. They sell to hundreds of thousands of customers, a substantial amount who give this establishment great reviews and promotion through their own social media.

Maybe it is the effect of the modern world, that instead of being united by taste, I, along with many others, are tied together by the fact that we indeed went to All’Antico Vinaio, and can say we’ve had one of their famed sandwiches. While I wouldn’t be hasty to give the place a Michelin star, it is foolhardy to ignore or discredit the efforts they’ve gone through for their success.

Orchestra dell’Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia
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