By Rachael Vella-Garrido
The day I stopped in for a few things at Pasquale’s Italian Market, the storefront was getting a fresh coat of paint and I was greeted with the word Benvenuti painted in a friendly script on the glass doors. Inside, I saw neatly stacked shelves and a bright interior. The walls were adorned with bright yellow lemon trees, reminding me of my grandmother’s collection of citrus and fig trees. They were so vivid I could almost smell them. The bright red cans of tomato puree stacked precisely in towers on the shelves, and the fresh greens and reds of the produce at the perimeter of the store added to the vibrant color palette. Just inside the door was a map of Italy decorated with tacks, encouraging people to represent their origins. As I was studying the map, checking out the coast I missed, a man asked me if I needed any help. He was warm and genuine and earnest in his description of the market. His behavior seemed to correspond to the atmosphere; it was new, clean and fresh, yet oddly familiar, like an old family story.
That’s just what Bill Chiesi (pictured above) set out to do when he opened Pasquale’s Italian Market. He wanted to meld old world flavor with a fresh concept. Every detail does just that. Looking for his own fresh start, his odyssey began in a house on Lovejoy where his grandmother, Dalinda, tended the family and the family business–a dry goods store. His grandfather, Pasquale (the store’s namesake), went off to work on the railroad. In addition to dry goods, the family store featured an ice cream parlor and supplied the neighborhood with most of their poultry. They were the hub of the community. The three family house he grew up in served breakfasts of spaghetti to get them through long days, smelled of grapes pressed into wine, freshly baked bread, and boasted a finicky dog that turned his nose up at cheap store-bought pasta. This is where Chiesi learned how to cook. He watched his mother, Petrine (or Pete, as she was called by those who knew her), and learned to make salads, pastas and meatballs. With these recipes and that dog’s discerning tastes, he also learned the tenets of his trade–the importance of personal service and quality.
The early 80s found him in Houston, Texas, working with his buddy making Buffalo-style pizza far from Buffalo. After gaining valuable business experience, he returned to the 9 to 5 world, working for a Rochester-based company for many years. He was able to travel back and forth, checking in with his mother along the way.
A few years ago, after battling a serious case of cancer, Chiesi was ravaged from chemotherapy, unable to eat and even drink. With some time, he returned to work, but soon realized that what he needed was rest. So he gave it all up for a year to work on his health. Bike riding, reflexology, and time helped in regaining most of what he once was. When his son suggested they move back to Buffalo to be near Petrine, they got a plan together. Sadly, three weeks before they moved back, his mother passed. So Chiesi, no stranger to tragedy and perseverance, packed up his reflections and memories, and journeyed back to the house he grew up in. His journey proof, as George Moore said, that “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.”
All too ready for a fresh start, Chiesi took over the short-lived farmer’s market on the corner of Homer and Hertel. Excited about the location, yet disillusioned with the condition of the business, he stripped it down, working hard to erase its past. He set about moving his vision in. Buffalo needed a place for Italian goods with a deli and fresh meats–the “whole ball of wax.” He met up with Kimberly Halavin of Kimberly’s Hand Painted Designs, who was able to help him create not only a beautiful space, but a meaningful tribute to his roots. With many colorful murals including the lemons, sunflowers, wheat and veggies, they created images that invoke European landscapes and visits to the places people stuck their tacks. “Dalinda’s Deli,” named for his grandmother, is a cozy corner housing freshly-made sausages including Italian sausage, hot Sicilian sausage, and chicken wing sausage. The deli stocks a wide selection of custom cut deli meats, olives, imported cheeses and salads, and deli trays to for entertaining. They’re also famous for the “Godfather Burger” which is an original mix of beef and sausage and some secret ingredients due the same discretion only a godfather commands.
The pasta aisle, “Pete’s Pasta Pantry,” constructed by Chiesi and his brother, is a dedication to his dear mother, Petrine. Here he carries pasta imported from Italy like Barilla, De Cecco, and Sclafani, a variety of products ranging in price to suit everyone’s budgets and recipes. Aside from the imported Italian goods, Pasquale’s products are as local as can be from Dinosaur Barbeque Sauce and Chiavetta’s marinade to Weber’s Mustard and Spices and Mixes by Milly. Choosing Coke products over Pepsi, Chiesi feels that even if it wasn’t made here, he’ll opt for the product that was bottled, packaged, or roasted here, like the espresso beans he stocks. The market has everything you need for a meal and even dessert. They fill their cannoli with a marscapone cheese filling and dip them judiciously in chocolate–enough to be rich and complementary but not overpowering. Or, you might even try the wine ice cream blended here in Western New York.
When I walked into Pasquale’s Italian Market that day, my impression was that this is a man who cares about what he does. Every detail of the market, from its cleanliness to its creative design, shows that his goal is to supply affordable, quality food and impeccable service. After hearing his story, I realized where his passion stems from. He wants people to eat good food and to be healthy. His concern is seen in the dinners he prepares for his elderly neighbors and the deliveries he makes to the disabled customers who like to call him Pasquale. Be it a quick cooking lesson or just a tip, he will do what he can to help you make good food. Bill Chiesi has arrived and like the fortune that he has taped to his computer says, “Your perseverance will pay off someday.” This market is a testament to that.
Author’s Note: Stop by the Pasquale’s booth at the Italian Festival on the north side of Hertel Avenue between Homer & Virgil. They will be serving their famous Italian Sausage, Hot Sicilian Sausage, Chicken Wing Sausage, and Cannoli.
Pasquale’s Italian Market
1146 Hertel Avenue
Buffalo, NY 14216
Rachael Vella-Garrido has just returned to the city after a brief hiatus in the suburbs. She is a teacher who will be spending the summer getting reacqu
ainted with Buffalo.