Calgary long history of having a strong Italian community presence (Bridgeland being called “Little Italy”) has diminished over the last few years as Italian bakeries, restaurants, grocers and old world backyard vegetable gardens have been largely replaced by a ethnic and hipster cafes, diners and organic grocers. Yet, evidence of Bridgeland’s Italian heritage can be found at LDV Pizza Bar and La Brezza Ristorante.
Also, just north of Bridgeland sit two of Calgary’s longstanding Italian institutions - Italian Super Market (265 20th Ave NE) and Lina’s Market & Cappuccino Bar (2202 Centre St NE), two destination spots for for foodies for decades.
However, there is a new Italian kid on the block, and it is on the border of Calgary’s hidden gem communities of Acadia and Willow Park - Spinelli’s Italian Centre Shop at 9919 Fairmount Drive SE. Opening in what had been a Safeway, then a Salvation Army Thrift store and most recently a Sobeys, it is now an urban grocery store, café and pizza destination. We happened upon it late one Sunday afternoon when we needed to hunt down a baguette to take to a realized dinner at a friends’ home in Acadia. So we thought we’d check it out.
Impressed and impressive are how we described our first reactions. Love the large front, garage-size windows that open up to the sidewalk creating an attractive café ambience with colourful umbrellas and tables. We were impressed at how many people were shopping, eating and chatting at 5:45 pm on a Sunday. The wall of cheese is impressive, as was the wall of cherries.
As I was taking pictures, a staff member in the produce department came up to me and said, “You should come back tomorrow. We are getting 200 cases of figs!” Impressive.
The Price Is Right
I was also impressed that bananas (my bell weather item for price checks) were 10 cents less than Safeway and Calgary Co-op. We also noticed two-for-one pricing on their in-store bread, hotdog and hamburger buns.
The deli was busy and visually looked impressive (I am not the shopper in the family and I am in no way a food expert). I do love my desserts and the bakery was very impressive, both breads and sweets. It also included a small gelato stand - two scoops for $3.75; this brought back memories of Florence where I went out every night for a stroll and a two-scoop tub of gelato.
I asked a young couple if I could take a picture of their pizza as it looked yummy, they agreed and without prompting said it was “very good.”
Start Up Hiccups
When we got to our foodie friends’ home for dinner we told them how impressed we were with the new Italian Centre. They too thought it was impressive, not only in the quality of product but the selection, saying they could probably do all their shopping there except for paper goods. We made tentative plans to meet up, and check out the pizza.
A few weeks later, unfortunately, our friends “trial pizza run” was less-than-ideal as the service was lacking, as was the staff's knowledge of what they were serving.
However, we are all confident that this was just a “start-up, hic-up” soon corrected as owner Teresa Spinelli is committed to creating a quality experience. And Spinelli is no beginner grocer; her father started the Italian Centre Shop as a family business in Edmonton in the ‘50s and now has three stores in that city. When visited the one in Edmonton’s Little Italy last year, our first thought was “we need more shops like this in Calgary.” It was very impressive!
Now with one Italian Centre Shop, I can’t help but wonder when Calgary might get more. From comments on their website, it looks like a NW location would be very popular. Maybe the new University District for a sister shop?
Currie Barracks in the SW quadrant would also be a great spot (or perhaps in Marda Loop). So too might the Italian Centre Shop be perfect for East Village, but I expect with the mega Loblaws store that is not going to happen. It would have been a great tenant for the Simmons Building with all of the new residents moving into East Village later this summer.
Eau Claire Market would be another good downtown location. And of course, Bridgeland would be a logical site - maybe in Remington’s new Meredith Block with its easy access from Memorial Drive and Edmonton Trail.
It is great to see how Calgary’s established communities like Acadia and Willow Park are evolving into interesting 21st century communities with shops like Italian Centre Shop, Calgary Farmers’ Market and the Willow Park Shopping Center anchored by Canada’s largest wine and spirit store.