Spanish ‘La Mafia’ restaurants banned after Italian complaint

EU officials ruled that the branding of a Spanish restaurant chain named 'La Mafia' is "contrary to accepted principles of morality", Italian media reported on Thursday.

Spanish 'La Mafia' restaurants banned after Italian complaint
Spain's 'La Mafia' restaurant chain had been going from strength to strength. Photo: Screengrab/YouTube

The Italian government had called for the name to be changed following an investigation by La Repubblica newspaper, but its requests were rejected by the restaurant and Spanish authorities.

Earlier this year authorities said the word “mafia” was now so widely used across the world that it did not necessarily relate to the Italian criminal organization.

The Office of Brands and Design, part of the European Union's Office for Intellectual Property, has now reportedly accepted Italy's complaint about the use of 'mafia' in the brand name, forcing the eateries to change their name.

The news came from Italian farmers' organization Coldiretti on Thursday, which has campaigned for years against the use of the word 'mafia' in brand names.

“Unfortunately the case is not isolated, and all over the world from Mexico to Sharm El Sheikh, there are 'Cosa Nostra' restaurants and pizzerias,” Coldiretti noted.

“The EU must now stop the commercial use of an infamous 'brand', which exploits stereotypes of mafia organizations, oversimplifying and almost normalizing it. This phenomenon has brought pain and grief throughout Italy,” said Coldiretti's president, Roberto Moncalvo.

“Adding insult to injury, as well as the grave damage to image, this is also an economic exploitation of the 'Made in Italy' label. Counterfeiting and falsifying Italian food is an industry which has now exceeded €60 million and has cost Italy 300,000 jobs, according to a Coldiretti analysis.”

'Lots of marketing, few scruples'

The La Mafia chain had been a rare success story during Spain's economic crisis,  growing steadily since opening in 2000. Its full name is “La Mafia se sienta a la mesa” or ' The mafia sits at the table', and its restaurant features pictures and decor inspired by the Italian crime syndicate.

It already has 39 restaurants across Spain and is about to open two more in the Canary Islands.

One of Italy's top writers on organized crime, Attilio Bolzoni, visited two La Mafia eateries in Spain back in 2013, aiming to investigate the success of a business with “a lot of marketing and few scruples”.

“In times of crisis, we are growing,” the firm’s public relations manager Pablo Martínez told the Italian journalist at the time.”We didn't create the name, we just use it.”

Martínez stressed that images of violence were prohibited in the firm's restaurants and that the model was the mafia of the movies, such as The Godfather.

“We apologize to those Italians who feel offended (by the name) but that’s not our intention.”

The article caused an immediate reaction in Italy.

Marco Anzaldi, an MP with Italy’s Democratic Party, called for an official complaint to be lodged, and following an appeal from Sicilian MP Claudio Fava, whose own father was killed by Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian mafia, the Italian government requested that the controversially named Spanish eatery either change its name or be forced to close.

Italy's anti-mafia commission, the Italian Embassy in Madrid and Coldiretti backed the call.

The restaurant chain has yet to make a statement on the EU ruling.

In August 2013, a a Sicilian politician and anti-mafia commissioner lambasted restaurants in Denmark for naming pizzas and sandwiches after a notorious crime gang after stumbling across an Al Capone pizza in Copenhagen.

He said the dishes “exploited the worst stereotypes about southern Italy and criminals”.

READ MORE: 'Europe needs to wake up to the mafia'


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La Bella Vita: Free Italian museum tickets, Sanremo, and real spaghetti carbonara

From seeing Italy's best sights for free to avoiding crimes against Italian food, new weekly newsletter La Bella Vita offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like an Italian.

La Bella Vita: Free Italian museum tickets, Sanremo, and real spaghetti carbonara

La Bella Vita is our regular look at the real culture of Italy – from language to cuisine, manners to art. This new newsletter will be published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to newsletter preferences in ‘My Account’ or follow the instructions in the newsletter box below.

The cold weather and grey skies mean February is the month when I’m most tempted to stay at home and keep warm, preferably with an Italian hot chocolate. But it’s a shame to stay in when there’s so much to do and see in Italy, even at this time of year.

Carnival season officially kicks off this weekend, bringing much-needed colour and joy to towns and cities across Italy at what would otherwise be a pretty dull time of year. The most famous Carnival of all is of course in Venice, and this year’s edition promises a return to its former grand scale after three years of limited celebrations.

If you’re thinking of attending this year, here’s our quick guide to the events and what to expect:

Venice Carnival: What to expect if you’re attending in 2023

A masked reveller wearing a traditional carnival costume In St Mark's Square, Venice

The 2023 Venice Carnival will start with a floating parade down the Grand Canal on February 4th. Photo by Andrea PATTARO / AFP

Another reason to get out and about this weekend is Domenica al Museo or ‘free museum Sundays’, when museums and other sites open their doors ticket-free on the first Sunday of every month.

As admission to major historical monuments and museums in Italy often costs upwards of €15 per person, there are big savings to be made and the free Sundays scheme is understandably popular among both tourists and residents.

Free entry applies to hundreds of state-run museums, archaeological parks and monuments, including world-famous sites like the Colosseum, Pompeii, Florence’s Galleria dell’Accademia, the Reggia di Caserta and Trieste’s Miramare Castle. See further details in our article:

What you need to know about Italy’s free museum Sundays

There is however at least one good reason to stay in and watch some Italian TV: The Sanremo Music Festival returns on Tuesday, February 7th, and it will likely be the main topic of conversation all week.

If you’re a fan of Eurovision, you’re pretty much guaranteed to love it. But some people don’t find the appeal of the show immediately obvious, to put it mildly.

So what is it about the festival that pulls together an entire nation, regardless of whether they fall into the ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ camp? We looked at just why this 73-year-old song contest is such an Italian institution.

Why is the Sanremo music festival so important to Italians?

In the latest international Italian food controversy, Italian media reacted with anger and dismay this week to a recipe published in the New York Times for ‘tomato carbonara’, which recommended adding tomato sugo along with the eggs, and replacing pork cheek and pecorino with bacon and parmesan – an adaptation which was described as “provocative”, “disgusting”, and a “declaration of war”.

For anyone who doesn’t want to traumatise their Italian dinner guests or risk sparking a diplomatic incident, here’s the classic recipe plus a look at the rules to follow when making a real Roman-style carbonara:

The ten unbreakable rules for making real pasta carbonara

However, you might be surprised to hear that adding cream – or tomato – to your carbonara recipe isn’t actually the worst food crime you could commit according to Italians.

From fruity pizza toppings to spaghetti bolognese, an international study revealed which of the most common international ‘adaptations’ are seen as most and least offensive.

RANKED: The 11 worst food crimes you can commit according to Italians

Remember if you’d like to have this weekly newsletter sent straight to your inbox you can sign up for it via Newsletter preferences in “My Account”.

Is there an aspect of the Italian way of life you’d like to see us write more about on The Local? Please email me at [email protected]