The family behind Di Palo’s, the century-old Italian specialty food store, sets its sights on the next generation.
With the new Di Palo osteria getting ready to open, there was excitement on Mott Street last week.This is a 21st-century addition toDi Palo’s 109-year-old Italian food shop just around the corner, on Grand Street, and the enoteca (wine store) next to it.At the new place, which will open officially on Monday, you can drink wine, nibble cheese — deep blue Gorgonzola, a creamy ricotta, pecorino studded with fresh peppercorns — or an ephemerally light slice of prosciutto, and there will be events and talks about Italian food and wine. I’ve been coming to Di Palo’s all my life, and I rarely make it out of the store without biting into the mozzarella made there, the milk dripping down my chin. Maybe now I can sit down and eat it.
Walking along Mott, I always hear Ella Fitzgerald singing “Manhattan,” with its sweetly ironic Rodgers and Hart lyrics: “What street compares to Mott Street in July?/Sweet pushcarts gliding by.” There are no pushcarts on Mott now, but according to Lou Di Palo, who owns Di Palo’s with his sister Marie and brother Sal, the street was jammed with them in 1910, when his great-grandfather Savino Di Palo opened a tiny dairy, where he made ricotta and mozzarella, at 131 Mott. In 1903, Savino fled poverty and oppression in the Lucania region of Italy, where he was a farmer and cheesemaker; when he arrived in New York, he did what he knew.
That primitive dairy was just across from the site of Di Palo’s new space, which is elegant, cool and sleekly designed. With a Carrara marble counter, slate floors, reclaimed wood walls and cream leather banquettes, it resembles the set of a sexy modernist Italian film.“We want to maintain tradition with a new trend, to relate the story to a new generation,” says Jessica Di Palo Canal, Marie’s daughter and a fifth generation Di Palo, who, along with her cousins Sam and Caitlin Di Palo (Lou’s kids), is a driving force behind the wine business and the new osteria.
“My son Sam is crazy about Ingo Maurer,” says Lou, proud if a little wry, pointing to the fabulous light fixtures hanging over the bespoke pewter bar. A doting father, he believes it’s the job of each generation to enable the next to express its ambitions and desires. “Family is everything,” he says. Above the front door is a sign that reads “C. Di Palo.” “My grandmother,” Lou explains. “She’s been gone since 1956, but her spirit is here.”
In for an early peek, Linda Schulze, a longtime customer and neighbor — her husband, the photographer John Matturri, bought their nearby loft in 1979 — says, “You just can’t get this food anywhere else. If Di Palo’s ever leaves the neighborhood, we leave the neighborhood.”