It has been said “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Such was the case for Giuseppe and Nanette Galloni. Originally from Sicily, the Galloni’s came to Sarasota by way of Venezuela. In the early 1980’s, authentic Italian groceries, meats, and cheese, were hard to find locally. Living in Sarasota yet yearning for the foods of Italy, the Galloni’s decided to source their own Italian specialties. In December, 1984 Casa Italia was launched and Sarasota had a new Italian specialty food market.
Over an 18 year period, Giuseppe and Nanette built a thriving gourmet food business. With a passion for authentic, high quality, Italian delicacies and groceries, the Galloni’s searched for new owners, who might share the same passion. In February, 2002 the Galloni’s met Raj and Nita Mathur and a new chapter for Casa Italia was set
Casa Italia’s 28th anniversary was celebrated in December, 2012.
I recently spent some time with Raj and Nita, learning more about them, the Casa Italia story, and their plans for 2013 and beyond. Here is what I found:
JLQ: So how does an Indian couple living in London come to Sarasota and wind up owning an Italian specialty market?
Raj: Nita and I were raising our family in London, had traveled throughout Europe, and wanted to include the United States in our travels. In 2001 we visited the US for the first time and immediately thought this was a place where we could live. In short order, we made the decision to move to the US.
If we owned a business in the States, the immigration issues would be less complicated. So we returned to Florida in February, 2002 with the intention of finding a suitable business to purchase. We traveled throughout the state exploring various businesses and locations before the Casa Italia opportunity was presented.
JLQ: And then what happened?
Raj: Nita and I share a great passion for food. We traveled throughout Europe sampling and tasting various cuisines. We were/are particularly fond of Italian cuisine. So the thought of owning an Italian specialty market seemed like a good idea. In fact, it felt right!
Since my professional training was accounting, I was able to examine the numbers from the Casa Italia business and quickly determine the viability of our idea. We decide to purchase the business and put our plans in motion.
JLQ: That was a big step to take. Tell me about the challenges in making such a change.
Raj: First of all we were determined to make this move to the US. This determination helped us overcome some of the challenges we naturally faced. It was going to be a 6 month process to get all the paperwork in order. I submitted my 6 months notice, hired a lawyer to manage the immigration process and also to handle the purchase of the business. We then planned our move from London to Sarasota but had to wait for all of the immigration and business buying iss
ues to be resolved before we could physically move.
JLQ: So in essence you bought a business and with it a new life?
Raj: Yes indeed, we changed professions, country, and lifestyle, as a result of this singular move.
JLQ: So the deal is complete. You move to Sarasota and then what?
Raj: The purchase became official in September, 2002. We worked very closely with the Galloni’s for a 3.5 month period to learn the business from the inside out. They were extremely helpful and remain so
JLQ: Did you have any hesitations once you were here?
Raj: No, not really. We were very enthusiastic about the business, the opportunity, and the products. We gradually expanded the number of products we were offering. Additionally, we saw an opportunity to offer “grab and go” prepared foods. Chef Frank Silvestro introduced himself to us and offered some cooking demonstrations at the store. Since the food was well received by our customers, we started to offer prepared Italian dishes weekly. With today’s busy lifestyle, the prepared food is a big hit for us and our customers.
JLQ: I could not help but notice the selection of Indian dishes in the prepared food section. How did this come about?
Nita: Initially we were very hesitant to offer any Indian foods. We did not want to change the character of Casa Italia and risk losing some loyal customers. However customers regularly asked if we would consider offering an Indian cooking class. To offer such a class would be easy for us, so we decided to give the Indian cooking class
a try. It was a big success. Today, the classes are a regular part of our business. We also have a small section, in the back of the store, where customers can buy Indian spices for their own food prep. And of course we offer “grab and go” prepared Indian dishes on Fridays.
JLQ: Adding Indian products and prepared foods certainly projects an international feel.
Raj: Yes that is true. Casa Italia’s Italian roots are deep but over time the products have become more international. For instance we not only offer olive oils from Italy but also from Spain. The same is true with our cheese, meat, vinegar, and almost all products. In fact just the other day I noticed we had a product from Iceland. So I guess you can say we have become an international specialty market.
JLQ: So where is Casa Italia going in 2013?
Raj: Since our Italian and Indian cooking classes have been so well received, we plan on doing more this year. We will continue to offer a wide range of unique, high quality food products. We are in the process of expanding the frequency of our wine tastings as well; so customers can expect more tastings in 2013.
JLQ: Thank you Raj and Nita for your time. I enjoyed learning more about Casa Italia and your adventure to Sarasota.
Raj & Nita: Thank you Jack. It was our pleasure.