In 1964, Carmelo and Raphaella (Ella) Renzullo established Renzullo Food Market on Nanaimo Street. They also set up housekeeping in a home on the corner of Nanaimo and Kitchener Street, directly across from their store. Aptly named “Casa Renzullo”, it is reminiscent of their Italian homeland with fig trees and summer-grown basil gracing the garden. There they raised six children who all attended neighbourhood schools. And at the store, a neighbourhood institution was born. In the ‘good old days’ it was a place to find food from the ‘old country’ as yet not easily available in Vancouver: grapes for making wine and baccalà (dried fish) for special occasions, real olive oil and pasta that didn’t come in a can. It was open all hours.
As the clientele grew beyond its Italian roots, the services offered also grew: a space to relax, drink real espresso and its many offshoots, enjoy a panino made from among a vast array of Italian meats, cheeses, olives and onions, and chat with an eclectic mix of people from just about everywhere. Advice, a few shoulders to lean on, life histories, current woes and triumphs, a chance to try out your Italian, and more are shared, chewed over and ingested. Kids are welcome and soon learn to love hot chocolate: heavy on the whipped cream. As a local filmmaker notes: “I come here because it’s way better than going to a psychologist.”
The shop is a cornucopia of all foods and condiments Italian. Want Romano beans (the best bean in the world, someone once attested) as fresh as picked yesterday, how about some luscious Ricotta cheese that doesn’t come in a plastic tub or truly pure olive oil? These and more are on offer.
The wooden floorboards and colourful displays of real food create a feeling of comfort and welcome. Those are qualities increasingly rare in grocery stores and so, Renzullo’s offers both a nod to what is past – because the city used to have many such shops – and a reminder that a family effort to keep old-school traditions alive is thriving and much-loved. Today, Mirella Renzullo and her husband Franco Valenti run the store in concert with employees who come, originally, from Italy (both north and south, if anyone is interested), East Van, Saltspring Island, and Israel. They, too, are part of an open-ended family that welcomes everyone.
Frances Renzullo, the eldest daughter, is a trilingual Vancouver school teacher whose experience includes many years in French Immersion and the library at Hastings Elementary and a current position as Teacher-Librarian at Van Tech. She lives close enough to walk to school. Son David runs the San Remo line of imports, varieties of olive oil, crushed tomatoes, vinegars and dozens of other products dedicated to real cooking. He lives in the neighbourhood with his wife Lena and their three children. Another daughter and her family live just around the corner. This is a perfect village node: a store stocked with colour and appeal, neighbours who walk to shop and stay to talk. They’ll sit outside even in the rain. A jewel for those fortunate enough to be in its orbit, precious and rare; it really is all in the family and the neighbourhood ---and beyond -- is richer for it!
~ Marcia Toms