It is undeniable that people like to reminisce about the “good old days” of Little Italy. Scott Panian, who opened Amicci’s in 1991, notes how much has changed in just the last five years. As he stared out the front window, he couldn’t help but see that Ciao Bella’s, Rocco’s, Caesar’s Den, and Da Mimmo had all closed around him. “When I came here, there were 22 restaurants, and High Street was jammed every night.” The demographic base of its restaurant has also changed. For 25 years, he said, his typical customer was a 40-year-old couple who had moved to the county and remained with them. That changed after the Baltimore Uprising, he said, and in the long run, may be a blessing in disguise. Its client and staff base is becoming more diverse, better reflecting the city today, and perhaps pointing the way forward for restaurants and neighborhoods in post-pandemic Baltimore – whenever that is.
“We have to turn around to get 20 to 40 year olds who pick up chicken parms on their way home from work,” said Panian. “Little Italy is very provincial. Our customers have become much more diverse since 2015, and our staff has also become much more diverse. We’ve redecorated and tried to make it more like a Baltimore city neighborhood restaurant as opposed to an old Italian school. During the pandemic, I looked at my bar that wasn’t open, and I was like, ‘We have to paint this place.’ Instead of replacing old Italian film posters, I called social media for local art, and we were overwhelmed by the response. Since March, my dining room is filled with local art. ”
In a similarly resonant effort, Germano’s Cyd Wolf says she and her husband are moving forward with plans for an art gallery in Slemmers Alley. They also plan to remake the restaurant, adding an Italian market. “There needs to be more retail business,” said Wolf. “We need another type of business that will bring people into the neighborhood.”
Panian emphasized that Little Italy Restaurants should look within and embrace the diversity of the city. “People [who live and work] within 20 blocks of me going to rebuild my business. You are hurting yourself if you live in a city that is 65 percent in the minority and doesn’t reach those customers. If you look around this neighborhood now, there are fewer Italian women in house coats and there are more couples in their 30s. I have to bring these people here. I’m not going to get those people back from Timonium. ”
Little Italian Rosalia Scalia, author of a collection of upcoming short stories
Stumbling Toward Grace, believes the sentiment about a restaurant that needs to appeal to all parts of the wider city also applies to its surroundings. At Pastor Oreste Pandola’s Adult Learning Center, in the former St School. Leo, it’s been happening, with culinary and language classes bringing in people from other neighborhoods. The cozy Little India restaurant remains open, and Black’s sports bar and restaurant, serving an international menu, is planned to be built on the old site of Vellegia.
After the statue of Columbus was overthrown, Scalia wrote opinion for Sun, expressed his opinion that he was not the best representative of Italian-American. Instead, he advised Italian-Americans to honor Mother Cabrini, the Italian-born founder of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the first US citizen canonized during her decades of service to Italian immigrants. Contrary to common stereotypes, he said he received more records supporting his position from the environment than against.
Bill Martin, former president of the Associated Italian Charities of Maryland, said the statue was being remade, but would be placed elsewhere. He also said he wanted the Columbus monument to be replaced with a statue of the Italian immigrant family, an idea that is sure to resonate in many parts of Southeast Baltimore, which continues to see Mexican and Central American immigrant populations grow and open new businesses. .
“It’s harder to attract some of the younger people, whose sensibilities about Columbus, and the Catholic Church, are different today,” said Scalia, adding quickly that she loved “Pastor Bernie” and inviting him to bless the rowing house after the recent renovations. . .
In another way, he continued, the beauty and simplicity of life in Little Italy, a neighborhood as walkable as in the city, is as attractive as ever.
“I moved out of my parents’ house when I was 19 because I thought it was too restrictive. Everyone knows each other’s business, “he said. “I got married, moved to Owings Mills, and got pregnant. When I knew my marriage was not going to work out, I moved back, knowing I would need support, and was here waiting for me. That was 41 years ago. I haven’t been away since then. ”
Scalia’s mother, Philomena, 92, and her mother’s sister, Eleanor, 88, still live here too. Next door, of course.
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