Frank DePaola was born in Calabria, Italy and moved to the US when he was eight years old. His family first lived in Long Island before coming to Astoria. Thirty three years ago he opened Sorriso Salumeria, an Italian delicatessen at 44-16 30th Ave. “Sorriso” means smile in Italian.
“We specialize in hard-to-get items,” Frank says. “Cheese, fresh-baked breads, sausages, meats, whatever you need.” His favorite product from the store is their mozzarella, which they make fresh every hour. The store also sells pasta and pasta sauces, prepared foods like lasagna and meatballs, and it does catering for parties. At the moment with Christmas approaching the ceiling is laden with hanging Panettone cakes.
“I give a lot to the store,” says Frank. “One hundred and ninety percent.” Sorriso’s is open seven days a week. Frank takes Wednesdays off and the fact that his son, who recently finished college, now works with him means he can “relax a bit.” But he adds: “When I’m off, I’m out getting stuff, or I’m going to the bank. You know, it’s always something.”
Frank has not returned to Italy since moving to the US in 1966. “I could leave for seven to ten days but I’m so attached I can’t! My wife says I’m crazy, but it’s my passion, I love it. This has been my dream. I love this business so I don’t consider it coming to work every day.”
Frank jokes that the stretch of 30th Ave from Steinway to 57th Street “used to be quiet until I got here! We support each other. There’s the bakery (Gianpiero), the liquor store. We all support each other.”
Frank says Astoria’s Italian community is smaller than it used to be. Some have “gotten older, they’ve moved away, some went back to Italy, they left us…” But at the same time, some of the original generation’s children and even grandchildren are still in the neighborhood, and still frequent Sorriso’s.
“We also have an influx of younger people moving into the neighborhood – 25-35 years old, young professionals. They know good food, they love good food, and they know what to expect when they come in to buy something.” They also use the internet to track down what they want, Frank adds.
Technology also means that the hard-to-get products that Sorriso’s specializes in are now less hard-to-get. “It’s easier to get stuff from Europe than it was 10 years ago. Everything is computerized…it doesn’t take as long to approve labels and everything.
“Sometimes people want a special item. I ask the importers to bring it in for me and they do. As my son says, ‘Dad, it’s the computer age’. I mean I’m not a computer guy. But absolutely it helps the business. Everything’s twice as fast.”