Groceria Merante celebrates 40 years in Oakland
The atmosphere hasn’t changed much in four decades at Groceria Merante, nestled at the corner of Bates and McKee Place in Oakland.
The popular Italian grocery store turned 40 this month. A big celebration is planned for Saturday.
There will be food and sweet treats, street vendors, cooking demonstrations, bocce ball and entertainment.
Italo and Philomena Merante bought the place, a former tailor shop, in 1976. It took some time to transform it into a grocery store which is now run by the couple’s daughters, Julia and Filomena.
“We sell our personalities,” Filomena Merante said. “We see customers help other customers. They talk to each other. They are comfortable here.”
They’ve kept the old-school feel their parents created of appreciating every customer and selling the freshest produce, meats and pastas.
“We love what we do,” said Julia Merante.
They don’t have a computer. Pretty much every space is taken up with products, almost up to the ceiling, some even displayed on the front sidewalk.
There are “thousands of products,” Julia Merante said. She and her sister knows where they all are.
They sell five dozen types of pastas and more than 30 olive oil selections because each has its own flavor. They stock eggs, bread, milk, tomato sauce, coffee, snacks and fresh fruit.
They are known for hoagies made with Boar’s Head meats and cheeses, on bread and rolls from Breadworks on the North Side and Sanchioli Brothers Bakery in Bloomfield. The added touch is sweet or hot peppers.
The goal is consistency, with the products and the service.
“The inventory is in our head,” Julia Merante said. “And this notebook here, this is where we make a list of what we need. Hey, we just got rid of our rotary phone.”
They said the times have changed in terms of what items customers want. The store has evolved and added gluten-free choices and vegetarian options.
The students from nearby colleges like Pitt and Duquesne cook more and they know the ingredients they want, because they watch the Food Network and get menu ideas from social media. And they want fresh ingredients.
“People keep coming back because we are so nice,” Filomena said. “Our dad taught us to be honest and to respect every customer. We keep our prices reasonable.
“I move things around just because I like to move things around so Julia can’t find them,” Filomena joked. “No, really, we are each other’s balance.”
The Merante family lived on Oakland Avenue when the parents bought the store.
They are open six days a week. It used to be seven, but two years ago when Julia Merante’s husband, Frank Duranti, became ill, they closed on Sundays for more family time. Duranti died in January.
“I think our dad would be in shock that we are still going strong 40 years later,” Julia Merante said. “He would also be happy.”
“Our dad would be proud,” Filomena said. “He taught us that if you make a customer happy the first time they come into the store, they will come back. If you don’t, they won’t.”
Helana Pietragallo of Shadyside said Merante’s is a “wonderful little secret.” She has shopped there at least once a week for decades.
“It’s like a little club here,” she said. “If I need a pick-me-up, I come here. There is nothing else like it.”
Peter Piccirilli, a junior finance major at Pitt from Moon, said he loves shopping at Merante’s.
“My family is Italian, and this place has a family feel to it,” Piccirilli said. “It’s not that big, but it has so many things. It reminds me of home.”
Saturday’s celebration is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact JoAnne at 412-320-7889, [email protected] or via Twitter .