Pam Cannatella is not originally from Sicily. It proudly proclaims its heritage as IBM — Italian By Marriage. Her husband Grant Cannatella is a fourth-generation Sicilian in Louisiana, and together they run Cannatella Grocery. Pam is the face of the unique Italian boutique on Government Street in Baton Rouge, and Grant runs the production kitchen at the original location in Melville, which was founded in 1923.
“It was the original hypermarket,” Pam says of the place now affectionately known as “The Old Store.” She worked behind the scenes as an accountant and is now immersed in day-to-day operations, commuting from Melville in a Cannatella logo-splattered delivery van.
Born with the Sicilian cooking gene fully intact and his great-grandfather Giuseppe’s Italian sausage recipe etched in memory, Grant makes all the sausages and prepared meals that fill the store’s fridge and freezer displays. . “My husband is a cook. He is a fabulous chef! I say he has a magic spoon. As Italians, this is how they show their love. I think it’s in their DNA,” says Pam. “He also makes tasso and pudding. He created his own olive salad and Cajun seasoning.
The partnership with local producers is another element of the success of Cannatellas. They have stuffed New Orleans artichokes and mushrooms and a selection of Louisiana craft beers. For wine lovers, Pam is proud of its almost 100% Italian wine section.
Stepping into the Cannatella grocery store is both stepping back in time and entering a sparkling specialty store. The wall space is a patchwork of memorabilia photographs and artwork with a Louisiana accent. The store is organized with neat shelves housing everything to create an authentic Italian meal at home and a royal ransom of olive oil – pure liquid gold – on display. Looking for San Marzanos? Cannatella offers a selection of sought-after canned tomatoes. And if Stanley Tucci talks about it, Cannatella will probably store it.
“The funniest thing happened,” Pam says. “A year ago I got a call for guanciale and I said, ‘I’m sorry, we don’t have that. When the second survey came the next day, I researched what is the guanciale (an Italian charcuterie made from jowls or pork cheeks). During the third survey on the same day, I finally asked: why is there a sudden demand for guanciale? »
The answer was Stanley Tucci’s TV series In search of Italy and his recipe for rigatoni all’amatriciana (rigatoni with guanciale and tomatoes). Guanciale is now in the lighted display case of the refrigerator opposite the San Marzanos shelves, unless of course the other shoppers have raided the supply. Pam Cannatella is keeping her eyes on Stanley Tucci so she can plan her orders accordingly. “If Stanley was talking about it, people wanted it.” She thanks Tucci for putting the guanciale on Baton Rouge’s map.
For those not planning on turning a basket of imported ingredients into a gourmet meal in their kitchen, Cannatella has the solution with a selection of Grant’s magic spoon dishes. “People come here, they want a good home-cooked meal,” says Pam. “They bring it home or to friends who are sick or have had a baby. Lasagna is our #1 seller. We have meatballs and red sauce, kidney beans with sausage, chicken and sausage okra. We prepare fresh pasta three times a week. He makes that vegetable beef soup that people love; they think it will cure anything. Soup sales doubled for the month of January compared to last year. The word is out.
The deli counter in the back of the shop serves cannoli, two styles of po’boys, whole or half muffulettas, and a sandwich affectionately named Porchetta Pete for Grant’s late father. On Mondays, the special draws throngs of hungry customers for a $5 quarter muffuletta served with Pam’s homemade pasta salad. She teams up with City Gelato’s Mario Lozanov to create the perfect cannoli, which are filled to order. “Mario makes our cannoli filling and sources the shells. We tried others to cut costs, but they just weren’t as good and customers took notice. They’re like a tube of waffle cone dipped in dark chocolate,” says Pam.
Steve Circello runs the ledger up front and serves as Pam’s right-hand man. “I don’t know what I would do without him,” she said. “He grew up in Melville and worked in the original store when he was in high school. After he retired from his job with the state, he came to work for us. He helped me open this store . Grandpa Pete brought us together,” she said, pointing to the framed portrait of Pete Cannatella. “If I start talking about my stepdad, I’m gonna start crying. He’s still here, watching over us.” We love our neighborhood, we know our customers, it’s a really nice place to live.