Tradition the main ingredient at DioGuardi’s

Jeff Labowitz knows the importance of tradition. Labowitz bought DioGuardi’s Italian Market and Deli, 3116 Market Ave. N, earlier this year, taking the reigns on a Canton institution with more than 100 years of history.

Jeff Labowitz knows the importance of tradition.

Labowitz bought DioGuardi’s Italian Market and Deli, 3116 Market Ave. N, earlier this year, taking the reigns on a Canton institution with more than 100 years of history.

Some of DioGuardis’ customers are carrying on a patronage started by their grandparents or great-grandparents, Labowitz said, noting that it’s not unusual to see three generations come into the store together.

Others are discovering the market for the first time, even if they’ve lived in Canton their entire lives.

“It’s amazing. Every day we have people come in going ‘Oh, we’ve never been here before,’ ” he said.

Labowitz’s goal is to make DioGuardis’ a new tradition for those customers.

“The challenge is to bring DioGuardi’s into the future without sacrificing that old-world charm that it has.”

GOURMET

In the months since Labowitz has taken over, the store has introduced new prepared foods and catering options.

The market, founded in 1906, is known for its homemade sausage, sauce and meatballs, made with the original recipes passed down by the DioGuardi family.

Those staples remain untouched, Labowitz said.

Everyone always worries that DioGuardi’s will change the recipes, “and we are definitely not doing that. But we’re also adding a new flavor with the prepared meals,” added Jane Mallory, the previous owner of the market. Mallory continues to run the store with Labowitz.

Those prepared foods include the classics — spaghetti and meatballs, sausage and peppers — but also new twists, such as lasagna roll-ups, gourmet Italian deli subs and muffuletta sandwiches on ciabatta bread.

Labowitz, a chef with years of experience in the food industry, crafted the recipes on his own but kept them authentically Italian.

The prepared meals fill what Labowitz sees as a gap in the market — busy people who may not have time to cook dinner, but don’t want to resort to fast food or take out.

Someone can pop into DioGuardi’s, grab a prepared meal, take it home and heat it up; they can still provide a fresh, homemade meal without cooking, he said.

“They know they’re going to get our good sausage and our good meatballs,” Mallory said.

They’ve also expanded catering. They now offer an expanded array of party trays and can provide some prepared foods for large groups.

The store still offers plenty for those who want to cook authentic Italian at home. Its shelves and coolers are stocked with imported foods including pasta, ingredients, desserts and wine — the kind of high-quality, unique items you won’t find at a typical grocery store, Labowitz said.

The deli case is full of premium meats and cheeses. “You’re not going to find bologna and chip-chop ham,” he said.

An open garden in the parking lot grows fresh herbs, free for the taking.

HISTORY

DioGuardi’s was started in 1906 by Antonio DioGuardi who immigrated to Canton from Greci, Italy. His brother, Biagio, joined him in 1913, according to information supplied by the store.

Biagio DioGuardi and his wife, Angelina, took over the store in 1920. In 1948, they move to their current location at 3116 Market Ave. N.

Biagio DioGuardi died in 1961, but Angelina “Mama” DioGuardi continued to work in the market until she was 101 years old.

Many customers come in with fond memories of meeting Mama when they were a little boy or girl, Mallory said.

The DioGuardi family owned the business until 1991. Family members still shop in the market, Mallory said.

The store was owned by several people afterwards. Mallory and her husband, Gary, bought the business in 2009.

Labowitz, also a real estate agent, bought the office next door to run his business. Labowitz would half-jokingly tell Gary Mallory that if he ever wanted to sell, Labowitz would love to buy.

In March, he was ready to retire and took Labowitz up on his offer.

“It was exciting. It just all kind of fell into place,” Labowitz said.

Labowitz wants to bring the business into the next 100 years. But he and Mallory aren’t forgetting DioGuardi’s long past.

The store keeps a scrapbook about DioGuardi’s history and Angelina DioGuardi in particular. She died in 1995 at 105 years old. It’s packed with news clippings and pictures of the family, smiling as they cook in the kitchen.

“It’s really important for us to keep that alive … and to keep it authentic,” Labowitz said, leafing through the scrapbook.

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