Louie Comella has been keeping a secret from his neighbors in The Heights.
For the past several months, Comella has been transforming the space next to his gelato and pizza restaurant Gelazzi into a new market that brings a little Italian flavor to Houston.
On Tuesday, January 16, Comella plans to take the paper off the windows, and throw open the doors to his latest project, the Italian American Grocery Co. As the name implies, the boutique grocer offers a full range of both Italian (as in, imported from Italy), and Italian-American (as in, imported from cities like Chicago and New York) products. Expect everything from deli meats and cheeses to dried pasta, frozen pizza, olive oil, sauces, and more. The store will also feature a number of prepared items including made-to-order sandwiches that use Italian meats, Italian cakes and cookies (including some imported from Italy), and take-away meals like lasagna and ravioli. The Italian American Grocery Co. is located at 3605 White Oak.
“We’re not competing with H-E-B, Central Market, or any other large retailers,” Comella tells CultureMap. “There’s a lot of stuff that’s found nowhere else but here.”
Even better, the Italian American Grocery Co. takes advantage of recent changes in the law that allow for the retail sale of beer and wine in the formerly dry part of The Heights. The store features an extensive selection of Italian wine, some domestic wine, and a mix of local and national craft beer.
Despite spending most of his time as a filmmaker, Comella explains that he decided to get into the grocery business for a couple of reasons. First, he’s following a family tradition that began with his grandfather. Second, he’s noticed that certain products that are staples in his hometown of Chicago or on the East Coast simply aren’t available in Houston. Now, Bayou City residents have a place to go for items like Vienna Beef sausages.
“I see a lot of operators, restaurateurs — they do things for financial gain. I’m doing it to make some money. I don’t think I’m going to make a billion dollars,” Comella says. “I’m doing it for the passion and because it’s something I like to do. I love great Italian food. It’s all I like to eat. I wanted to bring my taste to the world, just like I did next door.”
Tanya Kostetsky, a certified beer server with experience in multiple aspects of the local beer scene, worked with Comella to curate the beer selection. The store will have regular beer and wine tastings to introduce its customers to products they might not be familiar with.
“Louie and I both saw a great need in the area for a little bottle shop,” Kostetsky says. “There’s a couple places that carry nice craft beers but not a significant collection. We’re definitely going to showcase the best from Houston and the rest of the country.”
After a couple of weeks of operations, Comella plans to offer delivery from both the grocery store, and Gelazzi. Comella imagines someone ordering a couple of frozen pizzas and a bottle of wine and preheating the oven while waiting for it to arrive. Or, get a deep dish pie from Gelazzi, and pair it with a six pack of craft beer. The exact delivery area is still being determined, but Comella says he intends to start with more of the inner loop and grow from there.
However the store’s customers take advantage of its offerings — whether they’re Chicago expats looking for a taste of home, or Heights residents stopping by for wine — it’s safe to say the store offerings something for just about any food lover.