Updated: August 11, 2013 6:20AM
— Mama Martinetti
Knowing Anthony DeRosa’s interview would run on a Wednesday and that every baby boomer worth his or her salt remembers Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti day, I couldn’t resist using the above quote from the classic 1960s TV commercial.
DeRosa Imports is located next to American Natural Resources, a full-service taxidermy business, on Broad Street in Griffith. DeRosa’s place isn’t adorned with mounts of lunker largemouth bass, northern pike and walleye like Ed Leep’s place, but he does have octopuses and salted cod sold by the slab (baccala) on display.
Also on display are various shapes of pasta, hot and mild giardiniera, garlic, salami, provolone, mozzarella, olives, pepperoni, prosciutto, artichokes and a cornucopia of Eastern European delicacies I cannot spell or pronounce.
I was early and DeRosa hadn’t arrived. So, I took a look at the panini menu and opted for the Italia. When in Rome. The Italia is comprised of hot capicollo, mild provolone, roasted red peppers and pesto served on a 7-inch French roll. All for just $5.99. I washed down the scrumptious sandwich with a Serbian soda pop in the back room while waiting for Tony to show.
It’s tough job, but somebody has to do it.
DeRosa, 41, lives in Dyer with his wife Maria and their three sons, Luca, Enzo and Tino.
“My dad ran DeRosa Imports in the Harbor (neighborhood of East Chicago) on Main Street and Guthrie for about 40 years,” DeRosa began. “My grandfather was there, too.”
Tell me more about your father.
“The family went back to Italy; they were going to sell everything. My dad started school in Italy, but my grandparents came back to America to finish the sale of the business. World War II had started and my dad was separated from his parents. There was no going back and forth at that time. He finally made it back to East Chicago when he was 19. He had five American-born brothers he met for the first time when he was almost 20 years old.
“Dad got a job at Inland Steel (Co.) until my grandfather passed away. My mother wanted him to take over the store. Dad took the store over and then I took the store over. My relatives have a store just like this in Italy.”
What part of Italy?
“About 90 percent of my customers are either Serbian, Macedonian or Croatian. We also have quite a few Romanian, Bulgarian, Greek, Italian and Hungarian customers. These people stick with their old customs. They have to have this stuff. We have a lot of loyal Mexican customers. They go back to the Harbor to buy Mexican food, but they still support us.”
A few of your best selling items?
“Prosciutto — Italian ham. Not only do we get the best, we slice it right — paper thin. You have to trim the fat. You have to slice it against the grain.
“We also have coffee that my dad developed. It’s Turkish coffee that the Greek and Serbian people drink; they boil it. We have a grinder that an engineer designed for us. It grinds the coffee like dust or powder. Dad’s recipe roasts certain blends. We grind it, seal it and pack it. That’s been the biggest seller of all time. And it can’t be duplicated because nobody knows the recipe.”
I love your sons’ ethnic names.
“In my family every son is named after their grandfather.”
My dad, James, is named after his grandfather, Genaro.
“Genaro is the patron saint of Naples. Every year they drain his blood. They keep it in little vials and then they boil it. My uncle’s name is Genaro because he’s named after my grandfather’s brother. My grandfather’s brother got in an argument with him so he changed his name to Tony.”
“St. John the Evangelist. Father Maletta is a customer; he’s a great guy.”
Anthony, when I helped Rick Torres coach Andrean’s cross country team one of our best runners was a young man named Phil Maletta. His grandfather was the mayor of Portage.
“The mayor is the priest’s uncle. Attending St. John the Evangelist reminds me of going to grade school at Our Lady of Grace in Highland. That’s when the nuns were your teachers. It was old school. That’s how Father Maletta runs our church. It’s good. People need that. There’s no messin’ around. He says that’s the way its got to be, and that’s how it is.
“You gotta dress right when you go to church or he’ll call you out. If you don’t go to church? He’ll get on the phone and ask you, ‘Hey, where you been?’”
You mentioned Our Lady of Grace. At what high school did you attend?
“Highland. I played football and wrestled for the Trojans.”
You have other irons in the fire.
“Yes, my cousin and I have started a wine distributorship called Mediterranean Wines. That’s why I’m not in this store as much as I used to be. It’s a completely separate company; we distribute to restaurants and bars as far away as St. Elmo’s in Indianapolis.”
What a coincidence, I have a second-cousin who is a bartender at St. Elmo’s. His name is Chuck Sypult. His father Ken “Zip” Sypult was the longtime football coach at Highland. You might be too young to have played for him.
“I remember that name. The football field is named after him.”
Tony, I realize you’re a busy guy. What do you do for fun or relaxation?
“Coach football for these guys. They’re all football players and wrestlers like their dad was. Its become my passion. I go to football coaching clinics at Notre Dame. They got to train with the Notre Dame team. I coach the Tri-Town Raiders Pop Warner team.”
DeRosa Imports was established in 1926. What about Tino, Enzo and Luca?
“I don’t know. Right now, they think they’re going to play in the NFL.”
Yes, we’re all Americans. But Northwest Indiana is still quite the melting pot. Personally, I believe our diversity is our strength. Check out Anthony DeRosa’s place if you have any doubts.
Tell ‘em Jeff sent yuh.