From Cappuccino to Cutlery: Video Interview with Mariella Esposito, Owner of Fante’s Kitchen Wares Shop

Whether you need a world-class pasta strainer, top-of-the-line cutlery, or a steaming hot cappuccino, Fante’s Kitchen Wares Shop is the place to go.

Fante’s is the oldest cookware store in the country and located in the heart of the Italian Market! Mariella Esposito, Fante’s co-owner, started working at the store in 1970 as a part-time employee while still in high school. She arrived in Philadelphia as an immigrant from Italy and worked alongside her brothers in the store for the Fante family. “The Italian Market has been a home for me for the past 40 years,” said Esposito.

Fante’s opened on 9th Street in 1906, originally as a carpenter shop owned by father and son team Dominic and Luigi Fante. According to Esposito, when son Dominic took over the business, he did not know how to make furniture, so he sold pre-made furniture and turned the store into a gift shop. In the 1940’s, Fante’s started to bring some cookware into the retail store, and they have not turned back since!

It was not until 1981 when Esposito and her brothers took over the business and developed it into the full-fledged cookware store it is today. They are most well-known for their traditional Italian cookware, such as pizzelle irons and gnocchi boards, but carry a vast array of products for every cooking and baking need.

A look down one of the ‘gadgets’ aisles at Fante’s. Click to enlarge photo. (Photo/Catherine DeMuro)

Did I mention that Fante’s also has a fantastic coffee shop with a coffee of the day special? (It’s worth the visit for the beautiful aroma alone.)

Today Mariella took me on a tour of every nook and cranny of the wondrous kitchen shop. Watch the video below to hear her thoughts on the evolution of the Italian Market and get a sneak peek inside the store – including its most “FABULOUS” items!

Note: Video has been edited for length and clarity. Please check back for an updated post with an extended version of the interview.

Video recorded with my iPhone 6 and edited with iMovie. This was my very first experience with interview recording and video editing, so I certainly hope to improve from here!

Italian Market Q & A: Joe Ankenbrand, Co-Owner of Molly’s Books and Records on 9th Street

Molly’s Books and Records on 9th Street. (Photo/Catherine DeMuro)

What makes a business successful? Business owners who are passionate about their products, their customers, and making it succeed.

Joe Ankenbrand embodies all of these qualities. He is a co-owner of Molly’s Books and Records, a used book and record store in the 9th Street Italian Market, with his wife Molly, the store’s namesake.

Ankenbrand has been buying records since 1964 and does not plan on stopping anytime soon. He works as the full-time record buyer and seller for the store, and even lives upstairs!  Speaking with Ankenbrand provided a lot of insight as to what makes 9th Street so wonderful from both a business and personal aspect. 

Read my Q & A with Ankenbrand to find out what his most memorable experiences on 9th Street and why used book and record stores aren’t just for record geeks!

Note: Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Joe Ankenbrand, co-owner of Molly’s Books and Records, poses with the jukebox in the 9th Street store. Ankenbrand and Molly, his wife and business partner, were married in this same spot. (Photo/Catherine DeMuro)

How long have you been working at Molly’s Books and Records?

Six years.

Where are you from originally?

Philly. The Olney section.

Do you still live in the area?

Molly and I are married and we live upstairs from the store.

Tell me about Molly’s: the everyday business and its history.

Molly is a third generation bookseller. She purchased the property approximately 15 years ago; and it has been a bookstore, it has been a whole foods store, and when I met her, she had gone out of business and was getting back into business as a bookstore. We started doing records as well as books.

It was known as Molly’s Café, Bella Vista Natural Foods, and Molly’s Café and Bookstore. It’s been Molly’s Books and Records for six years. I met Molly because I had another job that brought me into the area and I used to come in here to look for books. She had gotten couple of crates of records that she didn’t know what to do with, and I knew her brother. She knew that I was interested in records and she asked me to help price them, so that’s how we met. We became a couple first, and then we became business partners. It’s quite a story. We’ll be married two years this April.

Walk me through a typical day for you.

Basically I roll out of bed, roll down the steps, and open the store. What we love about the market is that if we want fresh fruit or a newspaper, we just go up the street. Any supplies that we need for the store, we can pretty much get right in the neighborhood. I usually open the store, and it’s basically just preparing items that we go out and find. Since we sell all used merchandise, and we don’t sell anything new, we need to go out and find the merchandise. When we’re not actually going out to locate stock for the store, we need to prepare it for sale. That includes pricing, cleaning, basically keeping shop. I come in, flip on the jukebox, put out the merchandise for the sidewalk sale out on the sidewalk, and wait for people to come in.

Why 9th Street? Are there any other locations of this shop?

We had an outlet store on Passyunk Avenue for about a year and a half, but we decided having two stores was too complicated so we ditched the other place. Molly has been living in the Italian Market for 35 years.

What is your favorite thing about working here at Molly’s?

Owning the place is part of the charm. It’s a little different when you own a store as opposed to working in it. We take a lot of pride in just making it the best store possible. When Molly and I started this place together, we said we wanted the best little store in the world. For instance, we don’t put anything online. Anything a customer wants can be found right in the store. We love the earthiness of 9th Street; Molly has always loved it. I came here from another place, and what I love about it is that everyone is very, very friendly on this street. There’s something kind of indescribable about the personal connection that we feel with the other people on the street. We kind of feel like we’re all in it together. We try to support all of the other merchants as much as possible.

Since this is a book and record store, what is your favorite book?

Well, right now I’m reading Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce, and usually my favorite book is the one I’m reading at the time. One of my all-time favorites is Look Homeward, Angel by Thomas Wolfe. Those two are definite favorites, but some authors I like are Jim Thompson, Raymond Chandler, and David Goodis, who was a Philadelphia author. He wrote a lot of crime fiction.

Do you get to read a lot while you’re working?

No, I don’t have time.

What is your favorite record or album?

Oh good Lord. Let’s just say I started buying records in 1964, and I pretty much never stopped, even when the CD revolution hit. So I’ve been able to provide myself with a lot of entertainment throughout the years. I’ve always been a Beatles fan. I love music from the 60s, whether it’s garage rock or psych, most 60s music are definitely favorites. If I had to pick some of my top records, Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys and 12 X 5 by the Rolling Stones, because that was the first record I ever bought.

Do you have a lot of regular customers? What keeps them coming back here?

One rule of business is that you should know the names of your top five customers. I think we know the names of our top 20. We have very loyal customers. One of the things that we’ve tried to do, especially by not putting anything online – this is something that Molly and I tried to do consciously – is have all of our best merchandise available in the store for our customers. We put an emphasis on quality – we may be the only used record store with a return policy. Quality and price are the most important things. For customer service, we keep a ‘want list’ for people and when I’m out looking for records, I’m actually shopping for my customers.

A look down the aisle at Molly’s. (Photo/Catherine DeMuro)

How do you go about looking for records?

That’s a full-time job, believe it or not. I don’t know what I’m doing sitting here right now; I should be out looking for records. It’s a combination of things: we do auctions, estate sales, flea markets. We have feelers out in the closest four states. I’ve been buying records since 1964, so I try to make a store that I would want to go in and an environment that people would want to go in and feel welcome. Whether they’re looking for a rare jazz record or their favorite Billy Joel record from high school, I try to treat every customer like their wants are respected. It’s not just for record geeks, in other words.

So the everyday person shouldn’t feel intimidated walking in here? 

Record stores are a funny thing. There is, of course, a ‘record store vibe’ that even I feel when I walk into places, like it’s a clique or something. But we get a lot of tourists through the area, and we want the folks who come in with their families to feel just as welcome as the local record geeks. And having been a record geek, it’s ok to be one. I love record store people, but I want to make it comfortable for everybody.

Vinyl records are having a resurgence of sorts. What are your thoughts on that?

There are a lot of people who are just getting into vinyl. There’s definitely been a resurgence over the past five years or so. And there are a lot of people who feel intimidated, because they don’t know what to look for or how to really shop for records. We try to make them feel comfortable and give them information on where to find turntables and things like that which accompany the records we sell in the store that they might not quite know how to go about finding.

A sample of the varied merchandise sold in the store. (Photo/Catherine DeMuro)

In what ways has working at Molly’s on 9th Street positively affected your life?

It’s really just a great neighborhood. Everybody’s friendly and we all help each other out and look out for each other. It’s been a positive, in a sense, to feel a part of a business community and part of a neighborhood. There’s more of a human connection here.

In what ways has working at Molly’s on 9th Street negatively affected your life?

Let’s put in this way: I moved here after living in Collingswood, New Jersey for 20 years, so I was used to the singing of birds in the morning. Now I wake up to the sound of chainsaws as the vendors across the street cut up wood for their bonfires. Something negative about the area is that there’s too much trash in the streets and the lighting at night is terrible, so it doesn’t make businesses very inviting in the evening. It doesn’t have to be that way, though.

What is your most memorable experience working in the store?

Getting married here. Molly and I got married right in front of the jukebox with her parents and her kids present. We married ourselves; we got a Quaker license, so we didn’t need a minister or anything. Then we went down to Villa Di Roma for dinner, stayed right in the neighborhood. I would say if there was something else, it was when Jerry Blavat did a book signing here a couple of years ago. It was just really delightful to have him in the store. Another memorable experience was when my band, Dixy Blood, played outside of the store during the Italian Market festival a couple years ago. We’re kind of punk-rockabilly, we just put out two CDs and played in New York the other day. I’ve been playing drums since the 60s with lots of different bands, but playing outside the store during the Italian Market festival was really a hoot.

Describe 9th Street in three words.

“It’s Philly, yo.”

How about with three adjectives?  

Friendly is the one that comes to mind the most for me. It’s profitable, good for business. There’s a lot of variety, it’s multicultural. Where are my poet wife and English major employee when I’m in need of an adjective?

Do you have any closing words?

You know, I think 9th Street is a block with a lot of history. It still has so much potential and if it got cleaned up, it could be even better than it is. I know it’s a good tourist destination because it’s real earthy, and it has a real Philly feel to it. It’s a really wonderful place, but I know it can be even better. I’m just so happy to have my business and my home here.

Ankenbrand sorts through records in his 9th Street store. (Photo/Catherine DeMuro)

Spice Up Your Winter Nights

Photo by the author.

It’s another chilly day in the Italian Market! The Spice Corner at 904 S. 9th St. has some wonderful options to warm up your winter evenings. They carry many exotic flavors of loose tea to make at home, seasoned rubs and spices to add to that pot roast, and even some fruit and nuts to have with dessert.

FLASH CHAT: Chatting with Paesano Philly Style’s Chris Peterman

This is the first installment of Flash Chat, a segment in which I converse with people from various establishments in the Italian Market.

Not quite an interview and not quite a Q&A, Flash Chat will aim to get to the core of the business: what it stands for and what makes it worth knowing about!

I hope to discover some piquant information and to gain a more in-depth understanding of the people and culture of 9th Street in the process.

Without further ado, I present you with FLASH CHAT. This week’s chat was with Chris Peterman. Note: Interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Paesano's sign

Paesano’s sign via Yelp user Fred B. on Paesano’s Yelp.com page.

Name: Chris Peterman

Business: Paesano’s Philly Style on 9th Street

Other locations: 2nd & Girard, Memories at Margate, Lincoln Financial Field

When was Paesano’s established? The first Paesano’s opened approximately five years ago [2010], that was the 2nd and Girard location; and our location has been open for almost four years now [2011].

What is the mantra of Paesano’s Philly Style? We’re always putting love into everything we do. We use fresh ingredients and put a Philly twist on it. That’s why our catchphrases are, “Jaeet Yet?” and “Puttin’ the Love in Your Mouth.”

How do you incorporate that into your dishes? We make sure every ingredient that is in the sandwich gets the utmost attention and tastes exactly the same every time that we do it. We like our sandwiches to be consistent through every bite.

Who comes up with the ideas for all the different flavor and ingredient combinations? Our chef, Chef Peter MacAndrews, who has several other restaurants also.

What is the best-selling product at Paesano’s? The Paesano, our signature sandwich. It’s made with beef brisket and has fried egg on top.

What do you think keeps customers coming back? Probably our friendliness when they come in here. And then obviously the delicious flavor of the sandwiches that they can’t find anywhere else!

                  ————————————————————————–

Paesano’s is a must-try spot in the Italian Market, and home to my favorite sandwich of all time, the Arista! Check it out in my selection of The 8 Most Crave-Worthy Foods in the Italian Market for Under $10.

What are some 9th Street establishments you’d like to see featured in Flash Chat? Share your thoughts in the comments!

The 8 Most Crave-Worthy Foods in the Italian Market for Under $10

The Italian Market is overflowing with amazing foods and drinks with a variety of cultural influences. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to decide the best places to eat and how to budget yourself throughout a day trip, so I have narrowed it down for you!

Here is a selection of the most crave-worthy indulgences found on 9th Street, from breakfast through dinnertime – and everything in between.

1.  COFFEE OF THE DAY – Fante’s Kitchen Wares Shop, 1006 S. 9th St.

Fante's coffee

Click to enlarge photo. Photo via Fante’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/FantesInc.

Nestled in the righthand side of the sprawling kitchen store lies an aromatic shop chock-full of enticing coffee beans. The best way to try them all is to stop by for the Coffee of the Day, a rotating menu of the many flavored beans available at Fante’s. Get your morning caffeine fix and try out some incredible flavors for under $2 a cup.

2. THE HOLY DIVER BREAKFAST SANDWICH – Gleaner’s Cafe, 917 S. 9th St.

2015-02-10 17.48.49 - Copy

Click to enlarge photo. Photo by the author.

The Holy Diver is a breakfast delight, especially for those of us who would rather skip right to lunch! This hearty bagel sandwich is comprised of roasted peppers, onions, provolone cheese, and spicy mustard on a wheat bagel and costs about $5.

Bonus: Answer the question of the day, written on the wall behind the counter, for a discount.

3.  ITALIAN MARKET HOAGIE – Sarcone’s Deli, 734 S. 9th St. 

sarcone hoagie

Click to enlarge photo. Photo by the author.

Everyone has heard of Sarcone’s Bakery’s famous bread that sells out early every day and fuels many sandwich shops in the surrounding area. In Sarcone’s fashion, their hoagies are just as delectable! Try the Italian Market hoagie with hot capicola (“gabagool” to fans of The Sopranos), fresh turkey breast, roasted peppers, sharp provolone cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, oil, vinegar, and herbs for about $9.

4. WHITE PIZZA – Lorenzo’s, 900 Christian St. (corner of 9th & Christian Streets)

lorenzo

Click to enlarge photo. Photo via Yelp user Danielle J.

Pizza is a heavenly treat and a staple of the Philadelphia food scene. When you’re in the mood for something cheesy and garlicky (for me that is most of the time), the best slice of white pizza that you’ll be dreaming about for days after can be found at Lorenzo’s Pizza, where a slice is $2 and a large pie is $12.50.

5. PESTO AGNOLOTTI SALAD – Talluto’s, 944 S. 9th St.

pesto salad

Click to enlarge photo. Photo by the author.

A great lunchtime side dish or in-between snack is the cold pesto agnolotti pasta salad from Talluto’s. The agnolotti pasta is stuffed with pesto and accompanied by grape tomatoes and plenty of minced garlic! Sprinkle a little grated parmesan on top and enjoy a half pint for about $4.

6. STEAK SOPECITOS – Blue Corn, 940 S. 9th St.

blue corn

Click to enlarge photo. Photo by the author.

Blue Corn is the new kid on the block in the Italian Market, having only opened in 2014. They have earned a spot in my heart with their steak sopecitos: julienned steak served over queso fresco (fresh, mild Mexican cheese), sour cream, and refried beans on a small corn round. You won’t regret trying this fresh, flavorful dish with some of their homemade sauces on top. Three sopecitos come in an order and cost about $8.

Bonus: Read this review from City Paper for a glimpse into the ambiance and and experience of Blue Corn.

7. THE ARISTA – Paesano’s Philly Style, 1017 S. 9th St. 

Arista

Click to enlarge photo. Photo by the author.

You will not find a more flavorful sandwich in the universe, let alone in the city of Philadelphia. My most-craved sandwich of all time is the Arista, full of shredded, whole roasted suckling pig, sharp provolone, spicy Italian long hots, and bitter broccoli rabe on a seeded roll. Do yourself a favor and pick one up at Paesano’s for $9, but be warned – you’ll crave this sandwich for all your lunches to come!

8. RICOTTA CANNOLI – Isgro Pasticceria, 1009 Christian St.

cannoli

Click to enlarge photo. Photo via Isgro’s website: http://www.bestcannoli.com/cannoli

After visiting the Italian Market and sampling every possible cheese, olive oil, and sandwich you could muster, you will STILL have room for dessert – it’s science, people. The best way to satisfy your sweet tooth is with an incredible ricotta cannoli from Isgro’s, who have been in business for over 100 years. Yup, they know what they’re doing! Two of these award-winning cannolis cost about $8.

Bonus: check out this video for an inside look at Isgro’s history and how their cannolis are made. Video by 6 ABC News on Isgro’s website.

What are some of your favorite things to snack on in the Italian Market?
Let me know in the comments!