On April 26, Graziano’s celebrates its 100th anniversary. Since its opening day in 1912, the family-owned grocery store has occupied the same building on South Union Street and Jackson Avenue. Frank and Louis Graziano, founders, left a legacy for their family and community.
Frances Graziano, president since 2000, said the main reason the store is still around today is that it helped many people survive during the Great Depression.
“My grandfather made certain there was no one left hungry,” Frances Graziano said.
But, helping those in need almost made the brothers lose their business. Frank and Louis had to get a loan to keep the shop up and running. Although it drove them into debt, the store gained a good reputation.
“Many customers still come in and say they will never forget what the Graziano brothers did for my family,” Frances Graziano said.
“It all began with two brothers”
Born in San Morello, Italy, young brothers Frank and Louis Graziano immigrated to America in 1903, in search of a better life together. Frank, 21 and Louis, 17, went through Ellis Island where they decided Louis would start a grocery business and Frank would remain at the railway to support them until the business was successful. In 1912, Frank and Louis purchased the storefront, formerly a drugstore, and named it Graziano Brothers Grocery & Market.
In 1948, they established a wholesale distribution entity for local grocery stores and restaurants. Six years later, the original Graziano brothers, Frank and Louis, eased out of the business and let their sons, Mose, Mike and Gene, take over operations of the business.
For the past 100 years, Graziano’s grocery store has thrived in the Des Moines area, selling an assortment of pastas, a fresh deli section — famous for its sausage — and homemade and imported spices and olive oils. They recently added a merchandise area by the register with T-shirts, plates, bracelets, hats and a multitude of other wares.
Graziano’s food is domestic, with the exception of certain cheeses, prosciutto, tomatoes, pastas and oils. Frances Graziano said importing standards make it difficult to get food imported directly from Italy, but they do carry traditional candy and snack food.
The Italian specialty store sells to many restaurants, pizzerias and grocery stores. Drake neighborhood restaurants such as Jethro’s, Paul Revere’s, Drake Diner and the Library Café use products from Graziano’s.
Famous Italian Sausage
Mike Graziano hands a customer some of the store’s famous Italian sausage (circa 1950s). “The reason the sausage has such a great reputation is because it is a flavor people have never experienced elsewhere,” Frances Graziano said. “Even the proudest of Italians haven’t tasted anything like it.”
The sausage is a combination of heat, garlic and fennel, but the complete recipe has always remained secret, only known to the family. “It creates a nice marriage of ingredients,“ Frances Graziano said. “We’ve had 100 years of practice, so we must be doing something OK.”
Graziano Bros., Inc. Cookbook
Graziano Bros. will have a 100th anniversary celebration on April 26 with a press conference at 2 p.m. in the store. They are releasing two new items: sausage-flavored meatballs and extra hot sausage, along with information about a sausage festival in the fall.
The Italian specialty store will also release its first cookbook that incorporates homestyle cooking and customers’ recipes. Each year, Graziano Bros. sponsors a sausage recipe contest at the Iowa State Fair and the top three finalists from the past three years will have their recipes in the cookbook. Reservations for the cookbooks have already reached 1,500, according to Frances Graziano, and they will be available for purchase the day of the celebration.
“The end result is far beyond anything I had dreamed of,“ Frances Graziano said. “It is a great homage to what our ancestors provided.
Before taking over the business in 2000, Frances Graziano was a music therapist at Broadlawns Medical Center. Her father, Mike, did not want any of his five children to be part of the store because of all the hard work, so he made sure they all received a college education. When her parents started ailing, Frances became concerned with the future of the Italian specialty store.
“The opportunity to continue the family legacy has been quite an honor for me,” Frances Graziano said.
“My parents were ailing and I felt a sense of heritage and family tradition that I wanted to continue,” she said. “This store was another child for my dad. It’s not just a business, it’s part of our family history.”