An escalating turf war with a rival pizza chain backed by underworld figures is believed to be behind a spate of shootings targeting the family-run Woodstock pizza franchise.
Police sources have told The Sunday Age that the Woodstock shootings are part of a campaign of intimidation being waged against famed pizza-makers the Cannata family, who have opened two new restaurants in the city’s inner north.
The revelations come as Woodstock’s brand new Essendon outlet was peppered with bullets in late night attack on February 3, which is the fourth time one of their restaurants has been shot up in recent months.
On October 30, Woodstock restaurants in Fitzroy North, Brunswick East and Essendon – which was then under construction – were sprayed with gunfire one after the other in a highly-unusual triple drive-by shooting.
Victoria Police deny the attacks are linked to Melbourne’s underworld but have acknowledged their investigation has stalled in what is now being regarded as a growing threat to public safety.
‘‘We do have serious concerns that this could happen again. There’s people out there, obviously, with firearms and they’re prepared to discharge them in populous places with total disregard to the welfare of the public,’’ Detective Acting Sergeant Paul Topham said.
As part of a public appeal for information, Armed Crime Taskforce has released CCTV footage of two of the shootings in Brunswick East and Essendon.
The CCTV footage shows that two vehicles, a silver Toyota Hilux and a white 2005-model Ford Falcon, were used in the drive-by shooting of the outlet on Lygon Street, Brunswick East.
A second video, taken earlier this month, shows two men running down Essendon’s Raleigh Street in hoodies, one of whom fired a pistol into the windows of the restaurant.
Detective Topham said there was no credible evidence to link the attacks to an underworld feud or outlaw motorcycle gangs.
‘‘We do believe that there is some sort of possible message trying to be sent to someone but at this stage we don’t understand or there’s no intelligence at hand to suggest why this family’s been targeted or why this particular pizza chain’s been targeted,’’ he said.
But police sources say the Woodstock shootings are believed to have been committed by underworld figures linked to a competing pizza chain.
Fairfax has chosen not to identify the operator for legal reasons.
The Cannata family opened their first restaurant in Fitzroy North in the 1990s and then expanded into Brunswick East in 2012 and Essendon earlier this year.
No one has yet been injured in the four attacks, which have all been launched after business hours.
A source told The Sunday Age that staff have begun to quit following the latest attack.
The latest shooting has outraged some Essendon residents, who fear it is only a matter of time before someone in the neighbourhood is hurt or killed if the turf war continues.
"There are houses directly across the road [from Woodstock]. There’s a kindergarten a few doors down the street. The shootings might be happening when the place is closed but that doesn’t mean no one is around," a local said.
Concern that the unsolved Woodstock shootings were becoming a public safety hazard has led one local to demand action from the council, which has acknowledged "discussing the (public safety) issue" with police.
"The complainant demanded that council take action to shut down the restaurant involved in the shooting," Moonee Valley council chief executive Neville Smith said.
"We strongly encouraged him to contact Victoria Police about this matter, as local government does not have the power or jurisdiction to get involved in a criminal act."
Award-winning restaurateur Tony Cannata, who initially denied the shooting on February 3 had occurred, refused to comment on why his family’s restaurants had been targeted in four separate attacks.
"Police are investigating so I’ve got nothing to say," he said.
Detective Topham said the family was ‘‘terrified’’.
‘‘They don’t understand why they’ve been targeted. They don’t know when it’s going to stop and they just want to go to work in peace without fear of damage or firearms being shot at their businesses,’’ he said.
Fairfax Media understands that Tony Khoury, an associate of Mick Gatto, was formerly a silent partner in the Brunswick East outlet. But that business relationship is believed to have ended before the October shootings.