If you can't get to Italy, the next best thing has just opened its doors in Sherwood Park. And at 22,500 square feet, the newest Italian Centre Shop--a family-run grocery and cafe that started in Edmonton's Little Italy over 60 years ago--is a space that is as much a tribute to Italy as the full-service deli, bakery, grocery and gathering space that food lovers know and love.
Teresa Spinelli, owner and president of the Italian Centre Shop, can boast not only going through the pandemic without having to lay off staff, but expanding the business too.
"The Italian Centre Shop is about people--we work for our cashiers, deli clerks--everyone is family. When times are a little tough, we don't push anyone out, we just make more room at the table and share what we have," said Spinelli at the opening of the pre-eminent location, the fifth in the province at 8005 Emerald Drive off the Yellowhead Highway and Clover Bar Road.
Designed by OCI Architecture, the new store is influenced by the Spinelli family passion for Italian culture and tradition, with a twist. The colours of the Italian flag and tribute to the country's favourite sports are here, from bocce ball lights to soccer and cycling imagery. There's a full-length Italian marble wall behind the deli counter--the heart of the store--, arched cathedral-like windows above the frozen food section, and a 'cathedral of cheese'; a showstopping wall of $1,200 rounds of beloved Italian cheeses, Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino among them. There's a licensed 50-seat cafe, 30-seat patio, 70 ft. deli counter--even tiled bathrooms that are reminiscent of swimming in the Mediterranean, according to Sid Assaf, principal and lead designer of OCI Architecture.
“This isn't your standard grocery. We've designed the space to be a shopping experience to awaken all five senses and to charm and delight everyone who visits," said Sid Assaf, principal and lead designer of OCI Architecture. "We want the journey to be like you're walking around an Italian piazza--with iconic touches like the Roman aqueducts. I call this the Roman Time Square."
Along with hints of classic Italian architecture in shelving, the new-build includes nostalgic throwbacks to the shop's flagship location on 95 St. in Little Italy, found in the imported tile and flooring throughout the space. Italian marble and solid walnut accentuate serving and eating areas of the cafe too, where a Tavola Calda (hot table) features ready-to-eat Italian comfort foods like chicken cutlet, meatball or sausage on a bun and a full-service pizza bar. The in-house gelateria, which makes fresh gelato inspired by ingredients from the store shelves, is another must-try, says Spinelli. Shoppers will want to sample the Torrone (Italian nougat), oven-roasted hazelnut or freshly-squeezed-lemon varieties.
"This is our first time making our own gelato. We'll figure out how to keep up with demand," laughed Spinelli, who says the cafe is a critical part of the Italian Centre Shop experience. "People are hardwired to gather; to connect. So after the shopping--sampling something at the deli and finding all the specialty products we're known for, customers can eat together too," she said. "I know my late father Frank, would be so proud of everyone who played a part in creating this new place for the community to gather."
The Italian Centre Shop is Alberta's largest family-owned specialty food retailer and grocer, with locations in Edmonton, Calgary and Sherwood Park. The shops stock local and imported produce, European specialty foods and products and provide wholesale distribution to over 800 restaurants across Alberta.
"If we don't have it, you aren't going to find it," Spinelli said.