The chandeliers are hanging, the floors are installed, and the smiles are ear to ear.
Just in time for its 60th anniversary, the Porcupine Dante Club has completed a five-year $600,000 renovation project to bring the cultural club’s facilities into a new era of class and competitiveness, and its officials couldn’t be happier.
“We’re very proud of the fact that all of this is from volunteers, hard work, and labour, and it’s an unbelievable feat,” said Sam Rizzuto, general manager of the Dante Club.
“The people that started it would be in wonderment today to see what’s happened to it: we’ve taken it from a point where the ladies were coming out of the kitchen to help out with weddings, to what’s now a multimillion-dollar business. We are a force to be reckoned with in this area, for sure.”
As the first major renovations since adding two halls and a lounge in 1974, these changes will allow the Dante Club to enhance its status beyond an Italian cultural club and eternally popular host of countless social events.
With the installation of state-of-the-art videoconferencing systems and its growing staff of 30, the facilities are now fully ready to compete for a full range of event-hosting opportunities, including business meetings and conventions, says Rizzuto.
The move has already paid off: bookings have started to roll in for events as much as two years in advance.
“We’re not scared now if anybody opens up. We’re ready and prepared for the next five, 10 years for sure.”
This significant growth is a far cry from the club’s humble origins six decades previous, when it was established as a gathering place and cultural touchstone for the growing number of Italian folk moving into Timmins.
“There was a huge population of Italians here at that time, and not knowing how to speak English that well, they needed a place to congregate, to play bocce, to play cards, or just to get together and have a drink and kibbitz about the war years and everything else,” said Vince Purificati, Dante Club treasurer. “That’s how things got started, and just continued through the generations, and here we are 60 years later, still going strong.”
These days, the Dante Club still holds strong in its local role in maintaining the Italian culture, something it upholds through courses and events for its paid membership, which is also open to non-Italians.
The changing times are not without their challenges, however. With less immigration flowing into Northern Ontario, there are less people of Italian descent making their way into the Dante Club.
Luckily, the 60th anniversary celebrations have put a major spotlight on their efforts, which in turn have shown the younger generations the immense value of the club, said Purificati.
What’s more, because it is run as a club without having to answer to owners or shareholders, its costs are kept low. This means that the money is poured not only back into the club but also the community through the Canadian Diabetes Association, the Canadian Cancer Society, MADD Canada, local sports teams, scholarships at local schools, and much more.
This deep community involvement has also helped to draw attention to their handmade food – something in which officials take tremendous pride, as it has long stood as a symbol of the Dante Club’s incredibly broad public appeal.
Starting every morning with the basic ingredients like flour and eggs, the kitchen works to produce its own pasta, meatballs, lasagna and much, much more. It’s a tradition that’s carried on for the club’s full 60 years, and something on which it has built a sterling reputation as one of the greatest meals in town.
This status was strengthened years ago when a separate dining area was established in the club as an outlet for the public to test and taste the Dante Club’s menu, and to allow kitchen staff to work some additional hours. Its popularity was such that it was soon transformed into a full-blown restaurant, offering lunch and supper by reservation only on Thursdays and Fridays.
While sheer demand would allow for the restaurant to be open more frequently, the club’s hectic banquet business keeps the schedule from opening up further.
The public will soon have another way of accessing this unique culinary jewel, however, as the Dante Club will be offering an external catering service – something that should delight anyone who’s ever tucked into a plate of their fantastic food.
To help with this and to bring additional sophistication to their menu, two new chefs have been added to the kitchen, something which stands to bring their offerings to even greater heights.
“In the past, we had beautiful Italian ladies who were hard workers, but they were limited to what they did, though they were really good at what they could do,” said Rizzuto. “Now we have chefs, and not only do they have the skills that the ladies taught them, but they also have a vast expertise of their own that will greatly expand what we can do. It’s an exciting time.”
For more information on the Porcupine Dante Club, please call them at (705) 264-3185, or visit them at 162 Cedar Street South.
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