Like many of you, I can trace my love of food and family generations back through my family tree. I asked my grandma if she could capture a little of that history. She grew up in the local grocery store her father owned in an Italian neighborhood in Cleveland. Today known as Detroit Shoreway, this area is seeing a huge resurgence. It now hosts a diverse community with shops, restaurants, historic homes, condos, even an old movie theater. But back to Grandma’s story…
It all started after my grandmother, Angelina Maria DelGuidice, came to America when she was 15 from Alvignona, Italy, on the outskirts of Naples, in 1901. She traveled with her brothers on a ship and entered through Ellis Island. Her brothers came to Cleveland, Ohio and worked and bought several properties on Herman Avenue. Now a popular local bar, Stone Mad is on the corner of that same street. My grandmother met and married her husband Antonio Parente. His family was from New York but we never had any info about them or ever met any of them. My grandparents opened a grocery store at 6604 Herman Avenue. It was a two story house with a storefront. They lived behind the store and my grandmother’s brother’s family lived upstairs.
The neighborhood was comprised of mainly Italian immigrants. The grocery store was a focal point for the neighbors and was known for its homemade Italian sausage and other meats. Produce was brought in from local farms. Sustainability and locally sourced food wasn’t a trend. It was just what we did.
My father, Joseph, was an only child. He graduated from West High School and went to Ohio State for one day, knowing college wasn’t for him. He learned the trade of meat cutting from his father and helped in the store until he was drafted and spent five years overseas during World War II. When he returned he resumed working in the store and eventually took over. He also married my mother at that time.
The store was a place where neighbors would hang out and socialize. The quality of meat and deli items, as well as the selection of 52 different pastas, made this store famous on the West Side of Cleveland.
During the Depression, many customers received groceries on credit knowing they could never pay it back. Recently emigrated families would seek housing assistance and job opportunities with my father’s help. At Christmas my father would buy around 50 large wicker clothes baskets and fill them with food and toys and hire a local to dress as Santa and deliver them…always anonymously.
My father was famous for his sense of humor and jokes. There was always laughter in the store no matter how slow business may be. At the same time, my grandmother had a pot of coffee and cooked food in the kitchen behind the store and anyone who came in was welcomed. It was not unusual for me to see the garbage men, police and the beer truck driver all sharing her famous pork cutlets or meatballs. I was raised to respect each of them and had to call even the garbage men “Uncle”. I was told that I was not better than any of them just because I had more.
My father worked hard to keep the store open but eventually had to shut the doors when the big food chains (Krogers & Fisher Fazio’s) opened nearby. He spent the remaining work year’s catering. He was a good man, worked hard, and loved food.
I love hearing about my history. My mom, Angela, yes, named after great-grandma, has carried on the tradition and is an amazing, gracious hostess and cook. I grew up with an open door policy. A day still doesn’t go by when someone doesn’t stop over for a cocktail or a meal of whatever my mom is cooking up. My dad on the other hand is Irish. His skills fall more in the host and storytelling areas. I am definitely a little of both sides. As far as my culinary skills, I am still a work in progress, but I know I want to keep the tradition of family and hospitality going!
Thanks for sharing! I count on that door being open!
What a great job you did. And I love how you appreciate that your mother carries on the family tradition.