Mamma Mia – ready for a further 40 years!

Award-winning pizzeria moves to new premises next door; extended and refurbished but "almost the same"!

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Jon Ellse, proprietor of much-loved North Oxford institution Mamma Mia Pizzeria, judges the success of his restaurants on whether people return for another meal, and whether they would recommend them to their friends.

As such it was a true compliment to the Barr Build team to be commissioned by Jon for the fourth time (two phases of major works at legendary pub The Perch and a previous Mamma Mia renovation), to carry out a whole new project of transformative works.

At Mamma Mia Summertown the customers are ‘guests’ and general manager Gabrijel Jozic and his team are their ‘hosts’. The ambiance is relaxed and comfortable and head chef Umberto Scarpati, with seven years of running Mamma Mia kitchens and the title of Pasta Chef of the Year under his belt, ensures the renowned Mamma Mia standards of gastro excellence!

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Mamma Mia was established on Summertown’s South Parade over 40 years ago and has become very much part of the fabric of North Oxford. Having acquired the retail premises next door, Jon worked with architect Laura Donald on the architectural design and planning permissions for a new restaurant.

“Although our old premises had served us well, it simply couldn’t accommodate our growing requirements,” says Jon. “We needed upgraded staff rooms, storerooms, a walk-in cold room, disabled access WCs and baby change facilities, as well as a fully operational kitchen with no compromises – not to mention a bigger front-of-house space.”

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Jon had a very clear idea of what the new Mamma Mia would be and (together with Laura, Rogue Designs founders Charlotte Holmes and Paul Turner, and Barr Build) set out to create a fresh but familiar environment. “Our aim was to incorporate all the things our customers loved, as well as everything we would need to continue for the next 40 years,” he says.

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Through the addition of a single-storey flat-roofed extension (complete with the requisite groundworks, mechanical and engineering [M&E], and structural engineering) the total usable floorspace would be more than doubled, giving the scope to design a layout which would fulfil the functional requirements of the project.

“In my opinion the success of the project was largely due to having a pre-established client, architect, designer, and contractor relationship,” says architect Laura Donald. “A collaborative, problem-solving approach was aided by open, transparent dialogue and effective, collaborative decision-making throughout. It helped enormously that Barr Build were engaged from an early stage.”


The build itself required a complete strip out of the previous retail premises and apartment above. Throughout the works it was vital that the businesses and residents nearby could go about their daily lives without undue interruption. One ingenious build solution used was an air-driven piling system, developed specifically for works where restricted access and noise could be an issue. The machinery is smaller and uses compressed air to drive the piles, generating minimal vibration and making it much quieter. In conjunction, deep sound insulation (installed throughout the restaurant and apartment above) ensures that the happy Mamma Mia buzz remains inside the restaurant. Similarly, in the name of neighbourhood geniality, full hoarding was put in place during the works, protecting South Parade’s lively dining terraces and independent retail outlets from a building site eyesore!

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Rogue Designs were presented with the slightly unusual design brief of making the new Mamma Mia “almost the same as the old one”! Having worked with Jon many times over the years, Charlotte and Paul interpreted his brief with balance and poise (and a little bit of gentle persuasion!). From some angles guests could be forgiven for thinking they were back next door. New elements are fresh and impactful, without overriding the restaurant’s wonderful familiarity.

"We were so pleased to be part of another project with Jon," says Charlotte. "He's the perfect client, not least because he pays such attention to detail, always making enough time to take decisions with care. Working with Laura is brilliant, she's always so precise and astonishingly efficient, and all credit to the superb team at Barr Build, particularly for the energy, enthusiasm and problem-solving attitude that foreman Aaron brought to the site."

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Walls are finished in red-brick slips and hand-painted charcoal timber cladding, mirroring the established Mamma Mia style. In contrast the far wall is strikingly clad in a green metro tile, manufactured by H&E Smith, tile makers for the London Underground. The glazed finish reflects a neon pink sign denoting the year Mamma Mia Pizzeria came into being. A large central roof light brings in natural light and brass globe pendant lights bounce back miniature images of the bustling restaurant. 50s diner-style banquette seating cleverly defines the layout, surrounded by familiar artworks relocated from next door, which are interspersed with striking new additions. A bespoke timber frontage (in Mamma Mia red, bearing the comfortingly well-established signage) frames an enticing outside eating area, paved in Victorian geometric floor tiles.

“I tend to have a clear vision of what I am trying to achieve and knew I could trust this team to bring their relevant skills together to make it happen.”
JON ELLSE, Owner of Mamma Mia

“Projects with Barr Group, Rogue Designs, and LD Architects have always worked well,” says Jon. “I tend to have a clear vision of what I am trying to achieve and knew I could trust this team to bring their relevant skills together to make it happen. The project success was ultimately down to relationships. Similar to looking after customers in a restaurant, it is all about earning trust, and we do this by working hard as a team to provide high standards and consistency.”

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The Barr Build team have learnt so much, over the years, from working as part of this fantastic project team – we thank them all for journeying with us!

Barr Build would like to thank Laura Donald, Paul and Charlotte from Rogue Designs, and our client (restauranteur extraordinaire Jon Ellse) for making this project such a pleasurable experience for the whole team.

As an organisation we have learnt so much from working together over the years. Barr Build contracts manager Alex, site manager Aaron and the site team would also like to thank Gabrijel and his amazing Mamma Mia chefs for the delicious pizza deliveries – the ultimate Friday afternoon productivity booster!

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