'The new generation': Regina's Italian Star Deli family celebrates soft opening of new building

Italian Star Deli owner Carlo Giambattista prepares the store's biggest draw — its Italian sandwich on focaccia bread.  (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC - image credit)
Italian Star Deli owner Carlo Giambattista prepares the store's biggest draw — its Italian sandwich on focaccia bread. (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC - image credit)

Nonnos, nonnas, zias and zios of Regina can rejoice.

The Queen City now has an Italian grocery store big enough to meet the demand, and possibly even create more.

In the past, it was not unusual to show up to Italian Star at lunch time on a weekday and see the line for the store's popular Italian sandwiches — with grated feta, sliced banana peppers and Gina's 'La Bomba' spicy spread — stretch all the way to the front door.

But not anymore.

After over three years of planning, financing and building during a pandemic, Italian Star has officially moved next door at 1631 Victoria Avenue into a much larger, new building.

"You know, it's epic. The old place was tired. It was telling us we have to go. So, it's a good transition. I'm happy about what we did. We're sad for the [old] building over there, but very, very thankful for all the space," said owner Carlo Giambattista.

Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC
Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC

From burrata to pancetta to olive oil that's the real deal, the new store has both the old favourites and room to grow into its next phase.

Italian Star Deli has been a staple in the community since 1966. It was opened on 1611 Victoria Avenue by Italian immigrants Frank and Gina Giambattista.

Carlo Giambattista worked side-by-side with his mother Gina, who is now 92, at the small deli for 30 years. Now he said he feels like the new shop, which is still on Victoria Avenue, is for "the new generation," as well as the valued regulars.

WATCH| Take a look at Italian Star Deli's larger, brighter space:

Italian Star Deli now boasts a deli section triple the size of the old one. And there is a cafe for those with a hankering for a proper Italian cappuccino or espresso. The store now employs a chef and hot ready-to-go meals — like veal parmigiana — are prepared every day.

The store had it's soft opening this week, and while some shelves are still bare, they will fill up soon with delicious imported Mediterranean ingredients.

A family affair

On Thursday, the matriarch herself, Nonna Gina, visited the new store, hugging all the employees.

"My mom's pretty excited. I wish she was like 82. She'd still be here making lasagna," Carlo said with a big smile on his face.

He announced his mother's presence to employees and customers alike with obvious pride, as she made her way around the deli.

"She's why we're here. We're here because of that lady. I think she's very proud of what's going on and [with] her grandchildren being here. The next generation."

Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC
Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC

That next generation takes the form of Carlo's children Marina and Gino, who have inherited their father's high spirits and appreciation for every customer that passes through the door.

Giambattista said having his children and wife Heather work with him is very special.

"It's incredible. We eat together. We play together. We work together. We see each other every day. We're very, very happy," Giambattista said.

"I get it because somebody's kids move away and they say, 'oh, my kids are gone' .. I don't know how you can be away from your kids. We're very thankful. We deal with things together. We solve problems together and we enjoy each other a lot."

Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC
Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC

Italian culture in Regina

Giambattisa said having a bigger space has allowed his family to add a the coffee bar and bring in more imported Italian products that will be especially appreciated by the foodies and Italian cooking aficionados out there.

He said he believes the Italian community will welcome the presence of a larger Italian market.

"I think our community is very strong and supportive. But our Italian base here isn't as affluent as you will see in the B.C. market and whatnot,"Giambattista said, referring to beloved west coast Italian supermarket Bosa Foods which is a staple for the large Italian population in the Vancouver and Greater Vancouver area.

"But I think the variety of things that we have here, the Italian community for sure are going to see it. They're the ones coming here to get [ingredients] for a good carbonara … So we're now able to present more of that."

Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC
Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC

But Giambattista said everyone in Regina, from Italians to non-Italians, are going to enjoy the new and improved Italian Star Deli. Soon the store will have have fresh pastas available as well as multiple antipastos and olives.

"It's for people that just like to eat good food."