the Italian issue

The Spaghetti District The Lower Quarter was also home to several macaroni manufacturing factories. In 1902, Giacomo “Jacob” Cusimano built the largest macaroni factory in the United States at the corner of Barracks and Chartres. The factory was capable of churning out 10,000 pounds of pasta a day. Cusimano’s pasta plant manager, Leon Tujague, was a founding partner in the Southern Macaroni Company, which created Luxury Brand pasta in 1914. “Spaghetti houses” (red gravy restaurants), serving what today we call Creole Italian cuisine, rose to prominence on the restaurant scene in the French Quarter and beyond. But they were not confined to the French Quarter. Manale’s Restaurant, now known as Pascal’s Manale, opened in 1913 in a former corner grocery store at Napoleon Avenue and Dryades. Italian Grocers The grocery business proved popular with many first-generation and second-generation Italian Americans. Italian-owned corner groceries, dry goods stores and fruit markets proliferated in New Orleans — there were nearly 400 by the late 1930s. Beans, rice, flour and sugar were kept in large barrels and measured out for each customer. Almost all of the proprietors lived upstairs or in back of their stores. The Solari family started with a small grocery on the corner of St. Louis and Royal Street in 1864, and new groceries sprung up to serve Sicilians working in the FrenchMarket and the enclave of immigrants in the lower French Quarter christened “Little Palermo.” Central Grocery and Progress Grocery both opened on Decatur Street. Biaggio Montalbano started a delicatessen and grocery on St. Philip Street around the corner. One of New Orleans’ longest operating restaurants also began its life as a grocery. Sebastian Mandina, a Sicilian immigrant from Palermo, opened Mandina’s in Mid City as a grocery store in 1898.The family lived upstairs. Mandina’s evolved into a pool hall and sandwich shop, then in 1932 a restaurant.

Rouses Markets J.P. Rouse expanded his City Produce Company from serving public markets to shipping produce to stores and supermarkets all over the country. In addition to buying from local farmers he also planted his own acres for cultivation. His son, Anthony Rouse Sr., and nephew, Ciro Di Marco, worked at the company’s packing shed in Thibodaux. When J.P. died in 1956, the two cousins took over. But the era of the truck farm was coming to an end.Trading on the tradition of quality established by the City Produce Company, they opened the family’s first grocery store, a modest 7,000-foot store in Houma, Louisiana in 1960. They didn’t have big wholesale suppliers like there are today. But the two men found ways to sell groceries cheaper.They made their own Cajun specialties and dried all of their own spices.The butcher cut meat to order. Farmers brought produce delivered directly to the store. Rouse’s young sons were sent to local dairy to get milk for the store. As supermarkets became more and more popular, and grocery stores began adding more fresh goods, Anthony J. Rouse Sr. began yearning for a larger store where they could prepare food and have a full-service bakery and deli. Ciro Di Marco preferred to retire and sold his shares to his nephew, Donald. Rouses #1, a supermarket, opened in 1975. Family members helped the new partners — father and son Anthony J. Rouse, Sr. and Donald Rouse — operate both stores. There have been many milestones since, including 44 more stores across the Gulf Coast. A third generation led by Donny Rouse is now managing the company. But a century after J.P. Rouse immigrated to America, his Italian heritage is still being honored on every aisle of every Rouses Market. You’ll find a taste of the family’s history in everything from the San Marzano tomatoes, “00” flour and balsamic creams, to the Pecorino Romano cheese from J.P. Rouse’s home of Sardinia.

Italian-owned stores and markets also opened in Shreveport and Monroe, Louisiana, in the Mississippi Delta around Natchez and Greenville, and across the Gulf Coast in Biloxi, Gulfport and Ocean Springs, Mississippi. But outside of New Orleans, nowhere were Italian groceries as popular as Birmingham, Alabama. By the mid-1930s, over 300 Italian-owned groceries were operating in the Birmingham area, which had the largest Italian population in the state. Italian immigrants, many from Bisacquino, a small Sicilian village near Palermo,were drawn to Birmingham’s coal and steel industries, railroads and plantations.They settled around Birmingham in the suburbs of Bessemer, Thomas and particularly in Ensley, Alabama’s own “Little Italy.” Joseph Bruno, whose parents were Sicilian immigrants, opened Bruno’s in Birmingham in 1932 during the Great Depression. At the height of its success, his company had more than 300 stores.

J.P. Rouse, City Produce



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