by Michael J Cross
Tucked away at the corner of Vandeventer and Boyle Avenues in The Grove neighborhood is an online retailer and wholesaler of imported Italian specialty foods, Ditalia Fine Italian Imports. I’ve literally passed it hundreds of times driving down Vandeventer but never bothered to find out what was behind its unassuming brick façade. My curiosity got the best of me and I decided to stop in. “Hi, I’m Michael… I’m with Ciao St Louis”. The response was warm and inviting: “Come on in, benvenuto, take a look around and make yourself at home.” That was Vince DiPiazza, owner of Ditalia. Inside a plethora of gourmet Italian specialties surround me. A large warehouse filled to the brim with pastas, salumi, olive oils, antipasti, pastries – and not just any kind, but the very best brands that Italy has to offer. I was taken aback by the representation of foods from every single region of Italy. To say the least I was impressed, but to be honest I was also surprised. With all due respect, St Louis has quite a few Italian grocers which import directly from Italy but I was particularly impressed by the quality of the specialty products at Ditalia.
“How long have you been here?” I asked a bit reluctantly knowing that I had literally passed by the building practically my entire life.
“About twenty years.”
“And why haven’t I ever heard of this place?!”
Vince just smiled. At that point, he led me into the kitchen—also unassuming and very simple. An older gentleman greeted me with a smile: “Ciao, sono Nicola”. We began conversing in Italian. He tells me to sit down and asks if I’d like an espresso. “Grazie, volentieri,” I respond. The espresso turns into an entire lunch. I sat down for over an hour and they told me their entire story. And, remember, I had never met any of them before. Not once. That’s some real authentic Italian hospitality.
Vince introduced me to his father Vincenzo who had immigrated from Italy decades ago. In 1987, Vincenzo began Di Piazza Foods which turned into Ditalia Imports when his son Vince took over in 1997. Their first online order was on May 12th of that year and they became the very first online retailers of Italian specialty foods in America. Twenty years have gone by and I don’t have any doubt why Ditalia has won the loyalty of Italian food fans, grocers, and restaurant owners all over the United States.
“So how do you like the business, there have to be some perks to this job, no?” I ask Vince.
“Well, first and foremost, it has not always been easy. I built this business with a lot of help and a lot of work, especially from my dad. We work as a team. I get to converse with some of the finest chefs in St. Louis and America as a whole. I frequently travel to Italy, and the list goes on…”
“And what’s the best thing about this job?”
“Honestly, I love seeing my dad every day.”
For me, that was the line that said it all. At the end of the day, for Vince, it’s about family. Family is what keeps this Italian company prosperous. It’s also what keeps our St Louis Italian community vibrant and what keeps our Italian heritage and traditions alive.
For more information on Ditalia Imports, please visit their website: www.ditalia.com.
Reporting from The Grove neighborhood in St Louis, this is Michael J Cross with Ciao St Louis.