Dina Vendetti has big plans to fill a gap in the local food scene.
Vendetti is passionate about sharing authentic Italian homemade food and products — after all, she is related to the DeMarco family that ran the famous local shop bearing their family name for decades, so customer service is also in her genes.
Vendetti says she has always dreamed of opening her own Italian market but it was always a matter of finding the right spot at the right time and now one of her life's aspirations has been realized. Fresh Italian Eats, located at 126 Main St. East in North Bay (neighbouring The Moose Cookhouse) will have a soft opening Wednesday, July 5, and will welcome customers in earnest on Thursday, July 6.
Working at DeMarco's was her first real job and Italian classics are "the only thing I know how to cook," Vendetti admits with a glimmer in her eye. It has been years since a proper Italian market has existed in North Bay.
"I have 30-plus years in the restaurant industry. I'm making the food but it is just a small component of Fresh Italian Eats. The grocery store and deli with the imported fare are the main focus."
She is a true believer in downtown North Bay's renaissance and hopes her grocery and deli will draw shoppers to the city's core while also providing options for those who live downtown. "I think a lot of things are going to change downtown in the next little bit, especially with the construction. I believe in downtown. I wouldn't be here if I didn't."
Vendetti speaks with her hands as much as from her mouth from the Moose's patio, steps from her new shop. "Everything manifested properly here. There hasn't been one step of this journey that isn't meant to be. This is my dream."
Although her store was well in the works already, with the recent retirement of the owners of TW Foods, Vendetti hopes Fresh Italian Eats can fill some of that void left behind. In fact, she purchased much of the relevant stock from the closing store that was located across the street. Spices Village, an Indian grocery store recently opened downtown and will provide an option for those who relied on the Main Street market that had a little bit of everything.
Vendetti has also struck a partnership with a southern Ontario-based Italian food supplier. Many of the products available at Fresh Italian Eats are shipped straight from Italy — up to 150 items to choose from.
"We're going to have a dozen different kinds of olives available and my supplier has Italian pasta and the packaging is all labelled in Italian. The majority of what we have comes directly from Italy," she shares. "People want certain things, like lupini beans, for instance, and you can't get them in town. People drive to Toronto or Sudbury to buy Italian foods for Christmas."
Charcuterie and pasta kits are also available at Fresh Italian Eats. Sauces, gelato, olives, spreads, antipasti, baked goods, and a variety of Italian meats and cheeses, including capicola, salami, prosciutto, fresh buffalo mozzarella, Pecorino Romano cheeses are on hand. Grocery delivery through online ordering will be available a few days per week to start.
Of course, Vendetti's family is playing a major role in the creation and operation of Fresh Italian Eats. She also draws inspiration from the "nonna" phenomenon and has been perfecting her recipes for staples such as meatballs, lasagna, and gnocchi straight from the source by holding hours-long cooking sessions with local authorities on Italian cuisine.
Vendetti says that knowledge passed down through the generations is what keeps Italian cuisine fresh and delicious. She will serve a regular rotation of nonna-approved and ready-to-serve homemade favourites for takeaway.
There is one table with a couple of chairs to take a load off at Fresh Italian Eats but Vendetti says her lunch counter will have sandwiches daily specials for takeout only. Looking for dinner? Vendetti says to call ahead and get a freshly prepared lasagna to take home and put in the oven before it hits the freezer.
Vendetti looks back on that first job working at DeMarco's fondly and can't help but feel as though her life has come full circle.
"It's got the grocery store, the deli counter, and the delicious Italian homemade food — and the friendly service."