Mauro Antonacci: From Soccer Star to Restaurant Owner

story and photos by Justin Ortman

Mauro AntonacciIn the quaint Italian town of Cagli in the Apennine Mountains sits the small restaurant Squaqua where the new owner Mauro Antonacci strives to make taste the most useful of the five senses.

Whether he is standing behind the beer taps or serving tables, Mauro welcomes patrons into his first big business venture. Unlike many restaurant owners in town, Mauro is not a native Cagliese but was brought to the town by soccer and stayed in the town for love. Born in Bari in the south of Italy, he played professional soccer for five different teams between 2002 and 2007. His soccer career took him all over Italy, but Camilla -- his long-time girlfriend – settled him in Cagli.

Mauro initially worked for Squaqua’s previous owner, who, after a few years, put the restaurant up for sale. Mauro consulted with Camilla, and they decided they would take advantage of the opportunity. Mauro and Camilla purchased Squaqua in October 2009. After renovating the restaurant, Mauro and Camilla opened Squaqua’s doors in November. Referring to Mauro’s previous career as a professional athlete, Camilla jokes that her mate had “never worked before.” Both know the couple’s combined serving experience and dedication contribute to the restaurant’s success.

At 26, Mauro is a hard worker. He typically works six days a week as server, bartender, and manager. He admits to struggles along the way, but he says he has learned a lot. When another Cagli restaurant closed, Mauro hired its chef. Squaqua inherited from the restaurant a host of fabulous dishes including the Italian classic pizza margherita to spinach and ricotta ravioli with mushrooms and pancetta (an Italian style of bacon).

Mauro says college study-broad students who come to Cagli in the summer offer a boost to his business. The students’ love for both pizza and beer makes Squaqua the perfect place. Mauro’s ability to speak English also makes the restaurant attractive to American students.I would rather be behind the bar...

The economic crisis has affected businesses all over the world; even this small pub in central Italy is not immune.  Mauro says he struggles to keep prices low during this time of economic instability.

But business appears to be good. Mauro has expanded Squaqua’s presence in Cagli, adding tables on the piazza in the center of town. Every day he lugs 10 tables and 40 chairs from the restaurant and carries dishes to the piazza diners.

“I would rather be behind the bar pouring drinks and have Camilla serve the tables,” he says with a smile. It’s clear they work well as a team.