In 1994, Michael Tenace turned an old bank vault into a culinary institution, Il Solito Posto. His menu, including his grandmother’s coveted Penne Ragu, has remained unchanged for 27 years, which is a testament to the authenticity of his food. Michael has garnered a loyal following of diners, from CEOs to out-of-towners, and he continues to be a much-loved cultural and hospitality icon in the building and beyond.
When I was young, I lived in Reservoir and there was a little window with views of the city. My dream was to be in the Melbourne CBD. When I was nine, my mum opened a ladieswear boutique in the Southern Cross Hotel on the corner of Exhibition and Bourke. I was always running around and that’s when I met the late Morry Fishman who used to own Miss Louise. On my school holidays, Morry and I used to walk up the road to Pellegrini’s. That’s where I had my first watermelon granita.
When I was 14, I met Theo and John Poulakis in their first menswear store on Swanston Street. I did my work experience and after a few years, I started working for Harrolds. We used to meet at Pellegrini’s before work and there was always friendly banter with the late Sisto Malaspina across the bar. We would complain about how bad the coffee was and he would disagree. When I was 23, Sisto eventually said, “Michael, why don’t you do your own thing?” and back then, I had noticed that there was a big hole in the Paris-end of Collins Street. During this time, I started helping my mum in her clothing manufacturing business, but I’d always had my eye on this area. When 101 launched and the opportunity came up, I jumped on it.
It was the early 90s and the world was trying to get out of a recession. This whole area was a ghost town. I used to walk up and down the laneway and see windows full of dust. This site was originally part of The Bank of Victoria, and when we started renovating, we discovered that the original bank vaults were still there! The amount of work that had to be done to get it up to scratch was insane. I didn’t have a lot of money – I had to beg and borrow to get it done, but luckily my dad was very handy. We worked day and night for ten months. 101 contributed to the works and we were up and running on January 24, 1995. From the start, I always wanted to create an institution and if 101 hadn’t believed in me and my concept, it would never have happened.
I’ve seen it all! The one thing that stands out is seeing 101 evolve but stay true to its core. It has really kept its identity. The building is constantly evolving, but always maintains its original essence – I still think it’s one of the most impressive foyers in Melbourne. There’s nothing quite like walking through there with weary eyes after a 14-hour shift. It’s a beautiful building. 101’s integrity has helped me keep my integrity at Il Solito.
Another big stand out is the people, from the tenants to the management. For example, a gentleman and his son would come in regularly for meals in the early days of Il Solito. It turned out that he had been part of the engineering team that constructed the building. Over their meals, he spoke about how proud he was of being part of the creation of 101. I would listen and it made me realise that I’m part of something special. Recently, the son came in and told me that his father had passed away. He sat in the same spot, eating the same meal and reminiscing about the great times he had with his dad.