Progress Grocery Progress Grocery and Central Grocery share more than just sandwich history.They were once partners. Bartholomew Perrone of Palermo, Sicily arrived in New Orleans on March 10, 1907. After working at a variety of grocery stores he decided to open his own. In 1918 he partnered with the De Maio family of Central Grocery to form Progress Grocery on Decatur Street in the French Quarter.The families split in 1924 but remained friendly. Most people didn’t leave their neighborhood to buy groceries. But that changed after World War II. John Perrone Jr., grandson of the grocery’s founder, says Italian groceries became a must-visit.“People wanted gallons of olive oil,not small bottles.Mozzarella and Parmigiano Reggiano, not Kraft Deluxe. When they couldn’t find those things at their usual grocery or supermarket, they came to us. We had customers drive from two states over to get our olive salad, which we sold two ways, regular (whole olives pitted to order, whole cauliflower, large cuts of fresh celery and carrots) and chopped. Eventually we started to pit the olives ahead of time to streamline the process.” In 1970, Louis Augustin Cannizzaro, or Big Lou as everyone called him, opened Cannizzaro’s Distributing Company, providing Italian specialties to groceries all over Louisiana, including Rouses. “Lou introduced a whole new world to shoppers,” says Perrone. Cannizzaro’s quickly became one of Louisiana’s largest family-owned specialty food distribution companies. Big Lou passed away in 1996. With shopping patterns changing and
Y ou won’t find a muffuletta sandwich in Sicily. Or a muffaltatta, muffu- letto or muffulettu. The muffuletta sandwich is strictly a New Orleans con- struct, named for the bread it’s served on. Local lore has it that the muffuletta was invented at Central Grocery. But while Central Grocery was certainly one of the very first places to sell a muffuletta, they probably didn’t invent it. Hungry and hurried Sicilian customers who were used to two hour Italian siestas , or a grand lunch at home with a little rest, had to adapt to the 15 minute American fast paced lunch break. Turn-of-the-century groceries and deli- catessens catered to the Italian farmers’ and dockworkers’ request for sliced Italian meats, cheeses and muffuletta loaves, each Sicilian having their own version of pick- led vegetables and olives in hand. Eventu- ally the Sicilian customer, being in a rush, requested the meats, cheeses and olive salad
be put on the sliced Italian muffuletta loaf for an easier portable lunch. The Italian deli owners took notice. Central Grocery and Progress Grocery began offering prepared versions of the Italian sandwichwith layers of Genoa salami,boiled
ham, mortadella (Italian bologna), provolone cheese and olive salad — olives, garlic, celery, carrots, capers, cauliflower, pepperoncini and seasonings marinated in olive oil. Montalbano’s Delicatessen began making them to order. Customers who asked for a Roma or Roman sandwich chose the meat, cheese and antipasto to go on the bread. Montalbano measured the sandwich on a scale and charged the customer by weight.
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