Snacks N'at: Bloomfield's Groceria Italiana does it the old-fashioned way
Rose Marie Rossi is old school.
Just look at her hands.
This 83-year-old owner of Groceria Italiana in Bloomfield, nestled in a back street in Pittsburgh's “Little Italy,” uses those appendages to mix meatballs, knead dough and fill cannoli — all without a machine.
“Everything we do here is done by hand,” says Rossi, with her Italian accent as strong as her hands. “I could buy machines, but I don't want any machines. This store isn't about being cookie-cutter, where every piece of pasta or meatball looks exactly the same. It's not a mini-market. I want people to know what an old-fashioned market is like.”
There aren't many stores left like this one, says Rossi's son, Jimmy Luvara, who with wife Cindy, assists Rossi with day-to-day operations.
“It's the fresh ingredients and my mother's passion to make sure everything is always homemade,” Luvara says.
Nothing sits more than two days in this market, which Rossi has owned for the past 15 years. It's been in Bloomfield since 1958.
On a recent Tuesday, Rick Silverman of Scott stopped by for lunch from the food bar that changes its selections daily. He's been shopping here for years, having grown up in Pittsburgh.
“The food is delicious and fresh, and the prices are reasonable, and I really don't want more people to know about this secret store in Bloomfield,” he says. “It's a great place.”
A meatball sandwich is $5.50 (they make 100 pounds of meatballs a week all rolled by hand and baked); a jar of homemade sauce is $6.49 and a dozen ravioli starts at $7.25. You also can buy homemade breads and fried dough.
“I taste everything to make sure it is just right,” Rossi says. “I want people to see what is different between us and chain stores. You are not a number here. You are a person.”
Making one of the 12 ravioli choices — they are all baked — in the back of the store was Carol Studeny.
“There is no comparison to pasta in a box,” says Studeny, who creates 1,000 a day; more during the holidays. “Come in here around Christmas time, and you will see, it's crazy. I tell people to come early, but every year on Christmas Eve the place is packed.”
It's the fact that people don't make homemade pasta as they used to, Studeny says.
That's because there aren't many like Rossi, her son says. She will leave the store and drop off bread and pasta to friends, acquaintances and even people she doesn't know on her way home, including a crossing guard on Crane Avenue in the South Hills. The two talked one day when Rossi was stopped at a red light.
“I love feeding people and telling people what to eat,” she says. “And people want to know what to eat. Italian food is good because of the ingredients, all natural and fresh and made by hand. I want people to feel at home when they walk through that door. They are my guests, and I appreciate them shopping here because they could shop anywhere. And everyone who works here is part of this family and treats the customers like family.”
They keep coming back because of the quality of the product, Luvara says.
“We make everything right here,” he says. “And once this place is gone, there most likely won't be another one like it. We do it the old-fashioned way. The biggest compliment we can get is, ‘My grandmother did it this way.' ”