Community fights to save popular Woolwich pizzeria amid rent row

A community is fighting to save an organic pizza parlour credited with turning an area previously frequented by drug addicts into a thriving hipster hangout.

Vito Marino, 39, launched Rust Bucket Pizza Co in February from a shipping container on a derelict plot near Woolwich town centre.

But a row over rent culminated in the entrepreneur standing on top of the steel box as the landlord attempted to have it moved off his property.

After being talked down by police Mr Marino stood in front of the lorry being used to remove the container and his prized wood-fired oven.

Since he was evicted and forced to close the business last month, 700 people have signed a petition to get the business relocated to an adjacent council property.

Mr Marino, from Positano in Italy, said: “When I came here it was all needles and junkies stumbling around the town square. Some of them would beg for free slices and I would give it to them. I genuinely care about them and managed to bring some light into the darkness.”

Of the loyal clientele behind the petition, he said: “We are like a family. The pizzeria brought them all together.

“Now people come from all over Greenwich, Blackheath to get here. I changed a spot for the landlord that was worth nothing. The social impact was so great. He closed the electricity, the water, everything he could, but I could carry on and supply facilities by myself, so lasted another four months.”

Greenwich councillor David Gardner, who is part of the campaign, said: “Rust Bucket Pizza Co transformed a sterile but busy patch of Woolwich town centre. It animated the area, bringing a little outdoor cafe society and great organic pizzas. Rarely has one small street outlet made such a big difference to a whole quarter.”

Andrew Lakka, who owns the plot behind a branch of HSBC, said Mr Marino had misunderstood the initial agreement of rent being five per cent of earnings before £500 and 10 per cent of earnings after.

Mr Lakka said he had offered another conventional rent contract through his lawyer but Mr Marino refused. He added: “I was supportive of Vito and thought he had cracked it. The pizzas were great and had good reviews.”

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