|Di Bruno in the Italian market|
The family-run business has been on an expansion tear of late. The Italian Market cheese cave, started by brothers Danny and Joe Di Bruno in 1939, is still the hottest stop on any foodie tour of the city (ask the cheesemongers behind the cramped counter to show you their fromage-inspired tattoos next time you squeeze through the door).
After the brothers’ grandchildren - Billy Jr., Emilio and Bill - took the reins in the early '90s, they expanded the business to include importing and wholesale transactions, and in 2005 the Rittenhouse gourmet super-deli opened to great acclaim.
A quick-serve stand in the market at the Comcast Center appeared in 2008, and a stand at the new Ardmore farmers market followed last year (and has since grown in size). At the end of 2011, the cousins brought on board longtime friend and consultant Bill Shapiro as Director of Culinary Operations, to help oversee the burgeoning businesses.
Shapiro has serious industry chops, having run one of Philadelphia’s first BYOs and first seafood-centric restaurants, Cobblefish, in Manayunk in the early 90s, and has experience in catering as well. This week he sat down with us to discuss his plans to guide the Di Bruno empire forward.
Currently, around half of the upstairs floor of the Chestnut Street shop is an expansive cafeteria, with the other half devoted to a production kitchen, turning out the prepared goods sold at all the retail outlets as well as eats for catered events. That operation will move as soon as this spring, and with the extra space, Shapiro is looking to transform the room into a real restaurant.
“We’ll change the decor a bit,” he tells us, “soften the lighting, take out the Coke machine.” His vision is to run a place you can come with a big group of friends, share food, open multiple bottles of wine and while the night away. “That’s the best kind of dinner, where you can just relax and have fun.”
Look for both lunch and dinner to be served family-style on the second floor, though Shapiro isn’t a fan of communal tables. “I’m not sure yet what we’ll do about twosomes,” he muses. Pegged for a June 2012 launch, the concept isn’t quite fully fleshed-out, though Shapiro expects to keep it BYO. “We have a liquor license,” he notes, “but I think we’re going to save that for Pronto (on Ninth Street).”
So can we expect that small Italian Market storefront, which has sat empty for years, to open as well? “Once we have everything going full-bore on 18th Street, yes,” Shapiro offers as a tease, extrapolating, “I’d love to open a Italian trattoria there. But that’s a while down the road.”