Labriola’s Italian Store has kept family heritage alive for 90 years
A Pittsburgh Italian favorite is celebrating its 90th year in business.
Leonard Labriola’s Italian Store, with four locations in Aspinwall, Monroeville, Penn Hills and Warrendale, offers an extensive selection of gourmet Italian groceries and freshly prepared Italian specialties passed down from generations of Labriola family recipes.
Owner Leonard Labriola, 80, visits all four stores daily — seven days a week.
He keeps busy greeting patrons — often by name — escorting customers and assisting with carrying groceries to their vehicles, interacting with his 90 employees and tending to all aspects of the third-generation family-run business.
“For a business to make it 90 years, I think you must sell a quality product and offer a good service,” Labriola says. “Anything with your name on it, it’s carrying on my father’s dream.”
The original Labriola’s, opened in 1929 by Italian immigrant Leonard Sr. on Larimer Avenue in East Liberty, sold chicken, fresh produce and Italian pasta products.
The store motto of “Where the Best Costs Less” remains today.
“I started working in my father’s store at age 8. I swept floors, helped customers and have stayed in the business ever since,” Leonard Labriola says. “This is what I do.”
Leonard graduated from Duquesne University with a business degree, but never considered leaving Labriola’s.
“I’ve never had another employer,” Leonard says.
Customer Rich O’Brien of Etna has shoped at the Aspinwall location for 20-plus years.
“I love to come here for the deli meats. The selection is amazing,” O’Brien says.
Craving a healthier, vegetarian slice of ’za?
Labriola’s Tomato Pizza, baked fresh each morning, sells out quickly at $1.99 a serving.
The aromas from freshly prepared entrees such as lasagna or Italian wedding soup entice shoppers over to the central attraction at each market: a large deli case filled with cheeses, antipasto, home cooked Italian entrees, Boar’s Head meats, Labriola’s Italian sweet and hot sausage, as colorful jars of Labriola’s specialty sauces line an entire aisle.
“We have our own label of pasta sauce and carry more than 50 varieties of pasta,” Leonard Labriola says.
Customers can choose from more than 40 different premium olive oils, more than 50 imported and domestic cheeses and 75 Boar’s Head deli items.
Hearty soups like pasta fagioli, minestrone and stuffed pepper are sold in 32-ounce servings ($5.99-$6.95). Labriola’s Italian wedding soup is made fresh daily at all locations. Other soup selections may vary from store to store.
Catering and take-out is available.
“Italian food has and will maintain its popularity because it’s nourishing, very good and economical,” Leonard Labriola says.
Continuing the legacy his father began is a source of pride for the Labriolas, who originally hail from the town of Savignano in southern Italy.
There’s a Labriola sibling or relative operating each location: Camille Labriola Miksic manages the Aspinwall location; Rose Labriola runs the Penn Hills store; Leonard’s son, Lenny, manages the Warrendale store; and the Monroeville market is operated by Gene Labriola.
“Our parents lived to see some of Labriola’s expansions, like Aspinwall and Penn Hills, and they were very pleased,” says Rose Labriola, Leonard’s sister. “My mother always said, ‘If you treat the store well, the store will treat you well.’ ”
Labriola’s relocated to Penn Hills in 1969, expanded in 1984 with the opening of the Aspinwall store and later Monroeville in 2004.
A fourth store opened in 2009 in Warrendale to reach customers in Pittsburgh’s northern suburbs.
Rose says customers clamor for Italian faves such as Labriola’s homemade Italian wedding soup, lasagna, Chicken Romano, Eggplant Napoleon and hot sausage stuffed peppers.
“Us girls were always in the kitchen with our Italian mothers and Labriola’s recipes have been handed down from our mother, Rose Labriola,” Rose Labriola says of her childhood spent learning traditional Italian cooking from her mother.
The Labriola siblings gravitated toward the family business, but Rose needed a little family peer pressure.
“I was working as a secretary and they said, ‘C’mon, Rose,’ and I’ve been here ever since,” Rose Labriola says.
Store-made specialty sandwiches and paninis offer a quick and hearty lunch for customers while they shop, or for take-out.
The meatball sandwich ($5.95) features pork and beef meatballs topped with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce, served hot on a fresh Mancini hoagie.
Cold pasta salads, cookies, freshly baked Italian breads, coffee and espressos, fresh fish Fridays (every Friday — not just during Lent) and even fresh local eggs are among hundreds of authentic Italian food items lining the shelves.
“The world has changed,” Leonard Labriola says. “Customers are busier, on the go and more people are working. Our frozen prepared meals are popular and take 20 minutes to cook at home.”
For Leonard, retirement isn’t on the menu.
“This is a way of life for me.”
Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.