“It’s a little bit like that film Chocolat...” a customer said in an effort to describe The Italian Shop in Abington, Northampton where I was sitting with its owner Adriana Staniscia.
As the name suggests, The Italian Shop is not a French chocolate shop and, disappointingly, there was no sign of Johnny Depp, but I could see what the customer meant. Just like Juliette Binoche’s little chocolate haven in the movie, it seems that the shop has become a thriving community hub where people can pop in for a coffee or lunch and stock up on foodie goodies in the process.
I am ashamed to say this was my first visit to The Italian Shop but the venue in Ashburnham Road is currently celebrating its first birthday. And it seems to be going from strength to strength.
Adriana said: “We have always had a family business and I was looking in Northampton and thought Abington could do with a deli. My dad was Italian and a fantastic cook; cooking in Italy is so integral, there are some fantastic specialities from each region.
“I started researching the idea and found that whenever I mentioned it, people were really excited about it. I thought it could work.”
Looking around the shop, I can see the staff there have made a major effort to stock as many authentically Italian foods as possible. There are two rooms containing pasta of all sorts of shapes and sizes, plenty of Italian wine and delicious looking meats and cheeses including Belle Paese, fresh mozzarella and goats’ cheese.
Carmela Hayes holds regular Italian cooking demonstrations at the shop and it is also a place where people can go in to eat (the shop’s sandwiches made with freshly made bread have proven popular) or have coffee, as well as to buy food to take away with them.
Adriana said: “We do sit down lunches, coffees and teas. People come here for specific things they can’t get anywhere else, like types of Italian sausage, things that the supermarkets do but maybe not in the right way.
“People come in a lot for sandwiches and they can have what they want, right down to the salami they want. We can slice something straight on to fresh bread for them. We use Italian bakers and pick the bread up every day or have it delivered.”
I asked Adriana if she thought the shop was an educational experience for visitors in terms of raising their awareness of the full spectrum of Italian foods on offer. But, perhaps thanks to the efforts of celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson, and thanks also to the sheer amount people travel these days, awareness of Italian foods seems to be high in Northampton. In fact, Adriana is often challenged by customers to find the exact food types they enjoyed while on holiday, no matter what the region.
Adriana said: “We try to give people advice but people now travel to Italy so much, they will go to a corner of Italy, have something there and then ask me if I can get it for them. This place is almost as much about people as it is about food. I have met some really good new friends here and I now have some very loyal customers. There is a bigger Italian community in Northampton than I thought.”
For more information about the shop, see www.theitalianshopnorthampton.co.uk.