The History Of Italian Grocers In New Orleans

The History Of Italian Grocers In New Orleans

Always researching.
Always studying.
Always keen to learn more about New Orleans rich food culture.

Today, as we were researching the historic Montalbano’s Deli we stumbled upon an excellent 2009 article by Elizabeth Mullener, a former staff writer for the Times Picayune. In the old piece Ms Mullener explores the world of New Orleans’ Italian grocers beginning in 1880 when the Sicilians first began pouring into the Crescent City.

Old school New Orleanians will begin foaming at the mouth in remembrance of places with names like Ferrara’s, Dimiceli’s and Puglia’s.

How did these tiny grocers-often operated out of the front room of a small house-get ahead? ‘Ruthless under-consumption’ In other words being incredibly thrifty and denying themselves all but the most basic needs. It’s not how much you make, it’s how much you spend after all.

Mullener interviews Cosimo Matassa who says “A lot of people don’t realize it, but back then the French Quarter was a big blue-collar ghetto”

Ahhh, there is nothing we’d rather do than sit around reading interviews with old-line New Orleanians who were on the streets living the life back in the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

We drive 28 miles, round-trip, once a week to visit Zuppardo’s out in Metairie. It’s easily the best grocery store in Greater New Orleans, and it’s still operated by the same family that started out way back in 1937. It was the first ‘self-serve’ grocer in our city.

On our way back to the 9th Ward we always pop into Terranova Brothers Superette to pick up some fresh hot sausages.

read Elizabeth Mullener’s article Raised On Italian Food

  1. There was a Italian Grocery store in the French Qtr. during the 40’s & 50’s. Store carried lots of imported Italian foods and we visited it every time we visited family in NOLA. The store had two entrance on two streets. I remember that the name began with Di and the owner would come out and speak with all our family in Sicilian. He had a big tummy and always wore an apron. I think he was related to the Vaccaro family who owned United Fruit. My grandfather Joe Brocato worked for United Fruit. We were given cheese samples, salami, etc. and then we would proceed to Brocato’s s for Cannoli’s. Great memories.

    Gerald Brocato

    • RL Reeves Jr says:

      Back then there was a sub-neighborhood of the French Quarter called Little Palermo, so great was the concentration of Italians living in that sector. We can still feel their influence in the city. Hell, Joe Frady, one of our most esteemed corner store owners, had his family name changed, involuntarily, upon arriving in US way back when. They were Ferreras originally.

  2. There was a Italian Grocery store in the French Qtr. during the 40’s & 50’s. Store carried lots of imported Italian foods and we visited it every time we visited family in NOLA. The store had two entrance on two streets. I remember that the name began with Di and the owner would come out and speak with all our family in Sicilian. He had a big tummy and always wore an apron. I think he was related to the Vaccaro family who owned United Fruit. My grandfather Joe Brocato worked for United Fruit. We were given cheese samples, salami, etc. and then we would proceed to Brocato’s s for Cannoli’s. Great memories.

    Gerald Brocato

    • RL Reeves Jr says:

      Back then there was a sub-neighborhood of the French Quarter called Little Palermo, so great was the concentration of Italians living in that sector. We can still feel their influence in the city. Hell, Joe Frady, one of our most esteemed corner store owners, had his family name changed, involuntarily, upon arriving in US way back when. They were Ferreras originally.

    • Chris Maurer says:

      I sure do! My great aunt, Marie Borrello, used to take me there every day during the summer to buy a Push Up out of the cooler from Mr Joe in the 1970’s. We also used to go to Cimino’s on Pauger. My great aunts lived at 711 Kerlerec and the house is still in our family.

      I would love to see pictures of the store inside and out.

      • Luke Bonura Jr says:

        Mr. Joe was my grandfather. He was a WWII veteran. Fought in the Pacific against the Japanese. His father, Luca Bonura Sr., opened the store way back in the day. He was originally from Contessa Entellina, Sicily.

        • My great grandparents and one of my great aunts were born in Contessa. Mr. Joe was so nice. I remember going there in the summer to get the Push Up ice creams from the freezer. He and my Aunt Marie would talk about what was going on, who died, etc. My best estimate would be from around 1975 to 1979. I know the grocery probably closed not long after that, right?

          • Luke Bonura Jr says:

            It closed shortly after my grandmother passed away in 1982. Mr. Joe had dreams of turning the house into a B&B, but he ran out of time. He passed away in 1992. I lived in the upstairs house in the late 70s when I was a little boy. My dad grew up in that house as well as my grandfather (Mr. Joe.)

  3. george puglia says:

    Actually A&P was the first self serve grocery in New Orleans. My grandfather opened the second in the Lower Ninth Ward. I had a copy of the TP article but lost it in Katrina.

  4. Ignatius and Josephine Montalbano, both of Bisacquino Sicily, built a shotgun home with a small grocery store in the front, located at 824 Eight street in the heart of the Irish Channel back in 1907. The store remained opened by their youngest son Frank Montalbano until 1987 (unfortunately the criminal element forced them to leave). People think having Amazon or other stores deliver your groceries is something new, Montalbano’s grocery (along with many others) were doing this from 30’s through the 70’s.

  5. Mr. Joe was my grandfather. He was a WWII veteran. Fought in the Pacific against the Japanese. His father, Luca Bonura Sr., opened the store way back in the day. He was originally from Contessa Entellina, Sicily.

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