Service with a smile: Four generations have kept Gallucci’s Italian Foods going strong

You don’t have to be Italian to eat like one. Just ask the Gallucci family, proud owners of Gust Gallucci’s Italian Foods & Market, 6610 Euclid Ave., which has been serving Northeast Ohio for more than 110 years.

“My great-grandfather Gust came to the United States with his brother around 1908 and originally worked on the railroad,” says Marc R. Kotora, Gallucci’s vice president and fourth generation great-grandson of founder Gust Gallucci.

“When he got laid off from the railroad, he started going door-to-door selling fruits and vegetables from a wooden cart,” Kotora continues. “Many of his Woodland Avenue neighbors were also Italian and were longing for various foods from their homeland. He was able to source some of those items and, in 1912, he was able to open his first store.” ‘

Gallucci’s was originally located in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood. The market soon became a gathering place for Italians, where they could find products like imported cheeses and olive oil from their homeland and shop with people who spoke their language. The store also carried Hungarian products to serve the large Hungarian population that had settled in the Buckeye area.

Gust Gallucci was known for his generosity with credit and with and helping other Italian immigrants establish businesses. “I know my grandfather and his brother definitely helped establish some restaurants and pizza shops in town, so the pizza you’re eating today may have a little bit of Gallucci in it,” Kotora quips.

Gust Gallucci in the original food store on Woodland Ave. ca. 1924Gust Gallucci in the original food store on Woodland Ave. ca. 1924A changing and expanding customer base

Since opening in 1912, Gallucci’s has relocated four times. “In October 1988 we had to make way for Jacobs Field and the Gateway Project,” says Kotora, “so we moved from Woodland Avenue to our current location at East 66th and Euclid where we have now been for more than 30 years.” 

Through the years, Gust’s sons Frank and Ray Gallucci Sr., who took over the business in 1952, after their father died, and then the generations that followed, have never forgotten Gust’s business philosophy: “Always sell the best product at the best possible price and provide good service with a smile and a ‘thank you.’”

“I was about 12 years old when I started working at Gallucci’s,” recalls Kotora. “I never met my great-grandfather, but I would hear stories from customers who knew him and had shopped with him. It was a wonderful way to have a connection to my family, my roots, and to my great-grandparents. It also gave me an opportunity to work side-by-side with so many other family members.”

While much of the clientele is still of Italian descent, the customer base has grown to include many ethnicities as well as chefs and foodies. “Gallucci’s is Where the chefs shop,” says Jesse Blakely, a chef and now outreach communications director at Gallucci’s.

“I first discovered Gallucci’s while working as a cook at various restaurants,” Blakely says. “The restaurant professionals were always shopping there along with the Italian people, and a lot of our new audience has grown out of that wholesale environment.”  

An everyday lunchtime scene at Gallucci'sAn everyday lunchtime scene at Gallucci'sThe lunch counter business has also grown with the neighborhood. “The Gallucci family has definitely worked hard and has been ambitious through the years serving Cleveland,” observes Blakely. “But there has also been an element of luck and fate. Midtown Corridor has grown up around us, and the business has evolved from serving the Italian population to a dominantly wholesale business, and now to being like a luncheonette and grocer.”

Michael M. was already a foodie when he moved to Cleveland in 1992. “My co-workers suggested I check out the West Side Market and Gallucci’s,” he says. “I quickly learned there was a large Italian community in Cleveland and was wowed by all that Cleveland offered in terms of specialty foods.” 

Saturday mornings quickly became a trip to the West Side Market, Aladdin’s [Marketplace], and then Gallucci’s. “What kept me going back was the meats, cheeses, pasta; olive oil,” says Michael. “Just the variety of everything they had to offer.”

Many of Gallucci’s products are still imported from Italy. “We are fortunate that our longevity, our reputation, and our long-term relationships with other importers throughout the country has helped us maintain a lot of relationships over the years,” says Kotora. “Even during COVID and all the pricing and logistical problems it presented, we were still able to offer a wide variety of products”

Adapting during the pandemic

When the pandemic hit in early 2020, the Gallucci family was determined to remain accessible to their customers. “Our goal was to stay open, stay working, and stay healthy and break-even,” says Kotora. “I work with my family, but those who work with me have become part of my family as well.”

Kotora says he thinks the pandemic provided a chance for many people to slow down. “During COVID we saw a sudden spike in demand for some specialty items and the products used to make them—like basket cheeses and ricotta,” he says. “People were home and had time to go through grandma’s cookbook, so we saw a little bit of rebirth of some of those cooking traditions.”

Additionally, Blakely points out that Gallucci’s served many first responders, nurses, law enforcement, EMTs, and Federal Building employees at the height of the pandemic.  “Everyone who still had to be working had to eat, so we were blessed to be there to feed them.”

Gallucci’s carries one of the largest selections of Italian foods, wines, and other ethnic specialty itemsGallucci’s carries one of the largest selections of Italian foods, wines, and other ethnic specialty itemsItalian quality and value

Gallucci’s carries one of the largest selections of Italian foods, wines, and other ethnic specialty items. “We have our own brand of olive oil that is made in Italy and that is still a huge seller for us,” says Kotora. “Pasta and balsamic vinegars are also big sellers, and we have quite the variety of those items as well.”

Kotora says Gallucci’s prices and the food quality present a value. “One of the things we try to do is to educate the customer about the fact that balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and pastas are not all the same,” he explains. “You’ll see them at many different price points, but there are differences. Paying a little bit more for a product can really yield a much better tasting quality.”

Cheese lovers know Gallucci’s is the place to go for variety as well as quality of imported cheese. “Our cheese selection has really expanded too,” says Kotora. “We sell the Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto products from Italy, at different ages and from different towns like Parma and San Daniele.”

He explains the buyers know what to look for when choosing Gallucci’s offerings. “With our cheeses, we are very specific as what months the manufacturing process started.,” Kotora says. “If you get cheese [made in] the Fall, the grass is really lush, the cows produce a better milk, and the end result is what we believe is a finger quality cheese.”

In fact, that same selective attitude goes with all Gallucci’s products. “We also have imported Mortadella, an incredible variety of spices, and a wide selection of fresh olives,” says Kotora. “Our spices are always fresh and maintain all those aromatics and potencies that really do make a difference when you cook.”

Through the years, customer Michael M. became friends with the Gallucci family. When Michael retired, he joined Gallucci’s team.

“I’ve worked in the deli since 2018,” Michael boasts, “and have introduced a whole line of specialty smoked products—including smoked gouda, turkey, sausage, and smoked bologna.”

Michael says he enjoys introducing customers to new flavors, too. “I like to give out free samples and encourage people to try things they’ve never tried before,” he says. “It makes coming to Gallucci’s a type of food adventure.” 

Marc R. Kotora, Vice President and great-grandson of founder Gust GallucciMarc R. Kotora, Vice President and great-grandson of founder Gust GallucciGenerations of loyalty

Gallucci’s has enjoyed the loyalty of multi-generational customers through the years. “Cleveland has a very Old World European sense about it and people definitely look to Gallucci’s to be a vanguard of that old world European Cleveland,” says Blakely. “The people who come in with the most historical connections are certainly Italian, and they bring stories of coming to Gallucci’s as children with their parents.”

Blakely now focuses on building a new generation of Gallucci customers. “A lot of our new customers come from word of mouth,” says Blakely. “You’ll often see our long-time customers in the store helping a new customer."

Blakely says he uses social media to promote events like Sample Saturdays, and specials around St. Patrick’s Day, Ash Wednesday, and Feast of the Assumption. Additionally, the store offers student discounts on Wednesdays.

Blakely says it’s all about family. “I have worked with the Gallucci family for 11 years,” he says. While it is a family business, I very much feel a part of the family and I think a lot of long-term employees feel that way too.”  

“Gallucci’s has become a food destination for a lot of people,” says Michael M. “If you want to jump into Italian food with both feet and have a great experience, you need to visit Gallucci’s.”

Gallucci’s has now spanned four generations of family members and five generations of Clevelanders who have shopped there.

“After more than 110 years, Gallucci’s is still very much a family business,” says Kotora. “What an honor it is for the Gallucci family that so many people have made our family’s business a part of their special family moments, traditions and celebrations. “We are fortunate that we have some dedicated quality people that truly love this business and love food. We, as a family, are committed to continuing to provide the service and the product so that people can continue to keep their family traditions alive.”

Jo Donofrio
Jo Donofrio

About the Author: Jo Donofrio

Jo Donofrio is a freelance writer and marketing professional with an interest in medical and health care topics and human interest stories. Her work has been published in various outlets including Cleveland Magazine, MD News, and Angels on Earth (Guideposts).She enjoys the outdoors and recently tried her hand at Pickleball.