Di Rienzo: A favourite sandwich shop and grocery in Little Italy celebrates 50 years
As Paolo Di Rienzo gently stirs a pot of creamy Alfredo sauce in his busy commercial kitchen, he reflects on his family’s proud legacy.
“It’s going to be fifty years,” he smiles.
For half a century, Di Rienzo Grocery and Deli on Ottawa’s Beech St. in Little Italy has been a capital favourite; an eatery invented to satisfy the appetites of neighbourhood construction workers.
“We opened in 1973 and it was just a grocery store,” says Paolo.
“And then a little bit later, they were building the sewers. They shut Champagne Street. They shut Beech. So, we decided to cook for the workers and that’s how it started.”
Paolo Di Rienzo prepares an order of Fettucine Alfredo in the kitchen of his Little Italy store. (Joel Haslam CTV Ottawa)
Iole Di Rienzo was the family matriarch. She came to Canada with her husband and family in 1967.
Her magic touch for pasta and people was legendary.
“My mother used to get up very early in the morning. She would get stuff ready for my father and then start cooking,” says son, Paolo.
“She was very good to people, very friendly,” says eldest son, Gennaro DiRienzo.
“Everybody was like family to her.”
The late Iole Di Rienzo making homemade pasta. After opening a corner store in Little Italy, she began cooking pasta and making sandwiches for workers doing construction nearby. (Supplied)
Her six children always helped in the store and in the kitchen, serving delicious food to Di Rienzo’s valued customers.
“Lasagna, ravioli, rigatoni, manicotti, cannelloni you name it,” says Paolo.
And along with the sandwiches and hot food, are warm welcomes.
“I think that’s the secret,” says Gennaro.
“If you have a smile on your face, and you welcome people, people will come back.”
And they do.
Line-ups for the deli’s mouth-watering sandwiches are frequently out the door.
Loyal customers line up to order a Di Rienzo sandwich. (Joel Haslam CTV Ottawa)
“Everything is sliced fresh, and we put lots on it,” says Paolo.
“We don’t fool around,” he laughs.
Enzo Solazzo has been coming to DiRienzo since the store opened.
“I’ve had many, many sandwiches. Hundreds of sandwiches here,” he says.
“Once you eat here, there’s no way you’ll go back to anyone else,” he smiles.
“It’s amazing. You can’t go wrong. $8.50 for a sandwich? You can’t get that anywhere,” says Paolo’s nephew, Antonio Di Rienzo.
A Di Rienzo deli sandwich. “Everything is sliced fresh and we put lots on it. We don’t fool around,” says Paolo Di Rienzo. (Joel Haslam CTV Ottawa)
But Paolo Di Rienzo says he’s just running the business as his mother would want him to.
“We work very hard, we give the people what they want, and we’re not too greedy,” he says.
“It’s his baby,” says Carolee Dunn, Paolo’s wife, who sits at a dining room table going through company invoices.
“He works seven days a week, from seven o’clock in the morning until seven o’clock at night,” she says.
“He’s had tremendous support along the way from his family and his friends. They all want to help him because he wants to help them,” she says.
“He’s kind, generous and respects everyone, whether you’re a little kid going to school or a politician sitting in the Parliament buildings. He treats everyone the same.”
“I swear he’s the nicest person I know,” says Paolo’s nephew and store employee Antonio Di Rienzo.
“And he’s such a giver. If someone’s short a dollar, he’s like ‘it’s ok don’t worry get me next time. You go anywhere and no one is going to do that nowadays,” he says.
But Paolo Di Rienzo will.
After all, people have been making memories at his Little Italy shop for 50 years.
“This is probably the place where we stole our first chocolate bar,” says one customer.
“And it’s probably the place where we kissed our first girlfriend on the front steps. It’s an impressive place.”
It’s a taste of life many believe they can only get at Di Rienzo’s
“They just love people,” says Enzo Solazzo.
“And once you come here, you’ll always come back.”
And for their loyalty over 50 years, Paolo and his family say a heartfelt thanks.
“I just have to thank the community for what they’ve given us. Thank you to all the loyal customers. Thank you.”
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