A red sign illuminating the windows of Conte Di Savoia directs you inside, out of curiosity. Walking in, you see a deli counter decorated with homemade pasta and pastries to the left, and a cute dining area to the right. The menu has an array of original homemade sandwiches, which are very popular with customers. The rest of the shop is filled with Italian groceries, from chocolate to coffee beans to a plentiful display on wooden racks of wine imported from Italy.
“[Conte Di Savoia has the] Best red wine I’ve had so far,” said Kendall McDermott, a student and a first-time consumer of their Christmas themed red wine.
Conte Di Savoia, which has a lingering reminiscence of what Little Italy once was has nestled itself in a historical spot at 1438 W. Taylor St. It has continuously kept the tradition of Italian foods and groceries alive since 1948; today it sits between a Starbucks and a Sushi restaurant.
There should be more Italian shops here, McDermott said. “But they have good Mexican food here [On Taylor Street],” McDermott said.
Michael Dicosola, 61, the owner, and his two sons, Franco, 38, and Frank Dicosola, 41, have helped kept the Italian tradition alive. Franco manages the original shop at 1438 W. Taylor St. and Frank manages the second shop, 2227 W. Taylor St.
The store has survived and stayed strong since the displacement of as many as 200 Italian businesses and 800 homes after the expansion of the University of Illinois at Chicago was built in 1963, and later after the Eisenhower Expressway was added, leaving it as one of the only remaining genuine Italian grocery store on Taylor Street, Franco said. “We managed to keep the essence of what we originally started with,” Franco said.
The Dicosola’s inherited the business in the early 80s, after his father was working for the previous owner. Once Michael saved up enough money and purchased the shop from the former owner, they expanded Conte Di Savoia’s products with more Italian sandwiches and pastas.
Franco’s mother created and inspired some of the traditional recipes. The Contessa (Which means “countess”) was named after Franco’s mother, Anna Dicosola’s childhood nickname, and the Frank was named after his half brother, Franco said. “The Frank tastes like bruschetta in a sandwich,” Miranda Shaffner, a student, said.
The recipes are Southern Italian inspired. Anna lived most of her live in Bari, Italy, where she was taught by her mother Rose Calabrese traditional recipes that were passed down generation to generation. “In the South typically, at least from my families experience, was less prosperous as the North so our meals consisted of a lot of pasta. It was basically pasta every day with a new ingredient added,” Franco said.
Franco isn’t interested in expanding Conte Di Savoia. “Sometimes the product gets watered-down. When you expand too much…it becomes more about the bottom-line then what you’re actually doing. We do this for the love of it,” Franco said.
Shaffner wishes there were more Italian shops like Conte Di Savoia around Chicago and on Taylor Street. “[Conte Di Savoia] is like a piece of Italy,” Shaffner said.
He’s hoping he and Frank will be able to buy the business from their father. “We’re in the process of trying to buy it from him so he will officially retire. We’re gonna have to get him some hobbies,” Franco said.