Italian passion & pride... in a jar

2017/08/05 - Written by Sabrina Marandola
Franco Gattuso in front of his Mile End Store Drogheria Fine (Photo Claudio Ortu)
Franco Gattuso in front of his Mile End Store Drogheria Fine (Photo Claudio Ortu)
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Franco Gattuso has figured out that when you are true to who you are, the world comes to you. In fact, Gattuso spends his whole day welcoming people who drop by his Mile End shop on Fairmount Street. Many make a special trip from dozens of kilometres away just to see him.

I hate driving through Montreal but he makes it worth the trip,” says one lady from the North Shore’s Ste. Thérèse, with two jars of tomato sauce in hand. “I never buy prepared food. I make everything myself. But his sauce is the exception.” Gattuso’s eyes light up. “This is what means so much to me – getting compliments from housewives who cook themselves and know what good food is.” The 40-year-old is no stranger to “good food”. The youngest of five children, Gattuso spent his younger years right by his mother’s side.

“My mom was a great cook, and she’s typical Calabrese-Mediterranean,” he says. “In my house, the door was always open. We always had 20 people over for dinner – and not just on Sundays. It was like that seven days a week.”

So Gattuso spent much of his youth in his Villeray home – usually in the kitchen with his mom, Caterina Gattuso. That meant having a sophisticated palate from a young age. “I never went out with my friends to eat poutine or fast food. I never liked that,” he recalls. “I always worked, and with the spending money I had, I always wanted to go out with friends to finer restaurants or just eat my mom’s cooking.”

When Gattuso was not in the kitchen with mom as a teenager, he was in Reggio Calabria taking in the sun, sand, salt water and southern-Italian cuisine, of course. “I went to Calabria every summer since I was 14,” he says. “For me, those trips to Italy just confirmed everything I already learned about Italian cooking from my mother.” Pair that with the discovery of wine, and Gattuso quickly became a young man passionate about anything and everything that was homemade. “I love things that are done by hand, like wine, tomato sauce or olive oil,” he says. “There is a whole gastronomy aspect to it.”

Il sangue non mente, so with his passion and Italian roots guiding the way, Gattuso decided to start up a restaurant in his mid-20s with mom as the inspiration and backbone. He called it Il Piatto della Nonna (Grandma’s Plate), and Nonna was the one in the kitchen. “I didn’t have to convince my mother at all. She is a very proud woman and she had the heart and spirit of an entrepreneur and loved working with the public,” Gattuso says. “I wanted to get her out of the house. “It was instant success. Customers lined up to savour a plate of “Pasta della Nonna”. “It was never the same menu. People would come in and eat what was fresh that day,” Gattuso says, adding that her sauce was a huge hit.

After 15 years of cooking up authentic Calabrese-Mediterranean dishes, it was time to give Nonna a break. The end of the restaurant meant the beginning of a mini-grocery store: Drogheria Fine. (This is what fine grocery/convenience stores were called in Italy in the early 20th century). The store has 10 products, including fresh homemade pasta and egg-noodles, olive oils, and its hottest seller: “La Salsa della Nonna” – his mother’s tomato sauce recipe. Shelves stock the front of the small shop, and in the back, Gattuso can be seen working away over boiling pots of tomatoes, which are imported from the province of Parma (in the region of Emilia Romagna).

“None of my clients ask me if my food is fresh,” Gattuso says. “They see me sweating, stirring the cauldrons of boiling tomatoes. The sauce is all-natural, no preservatives added.” Gattuso says Milano grocery store is his latest buyer – another dream come true for him. “I always wanted Milano’s – the store where I shopped at in the neighbourhood I grew up in – to sell my products,” he says.

From here, Gattuso plans to keep on expanding. “I want to build up an inventory here, and then open up another grocery store with my own private label,” he says, adding that he’s very grateful to the Italian immigrants who came to Canada, bringing their strong cultural ties with them. “I am here thanks to Italo-Canadians,” he says, adding that he seems to never get enough of what he does every day. “When I wake up in the morning, I try to leave my house as early as I can because I can’t wait to come to work.”

Drogheria Fine is located at 68 Fairmount West in the Mile End

See link below from Franco's delicious tomato sauce recipe!

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