Trinacria to open Mount Vernon café

BALTIMORE, Md. - It took more than 100 years, but one of Baltimore's oldest and truly authentic shops is finally expanding.

Trinacria Macaroni Works, the tiny Italian grocery at 406 N. Paca St., is broadening its operation to Mount Vernon in mid-January.

"We're evolving and changing because you have to," Vincent Fava, the shop's current owner, said.

Fava, 50, is the third generation owner behind his grandfather Vincent, and his father Salvatore. The eldest Fava emigrated from Sicily in the early 1900s.

"He came over here to America, like everyone else—penniless," Fava said.

His grandfather sought to escape a life unbefitting a man with ambition. A barber by trade, the senior Fava, "didn't like the life he was leading," Vincent said. He would cut the hair and shave the faces of well-to-do men who often made use of the shop's spittoon.

"They would stop and spit and their beards were all full of that junk," Vincent said. "He thought it was disgusting."

Frustration and the desire to move forward have played a big part in Trinacria's success in where it came from and where it's going.

Fava's grandfather moved to Baltimore from the Sicilian fishing town of Cefalu.

"At one time, this whole area was Italians," Fava said. "All Italians, all the way down to Lexington Market."

He began canning tomatoes, baking bread and making pasta.

"There was no money in pasta. A cent a pound, maybe 2 cents a pound," Fava said. He would send his packages on horse and buggy to grocers and businesses, but would often see his good's spoil.

His frustration reached a boiling one day when a driver tasked with delivering the goods decided to make a pit stop at a bar.

"The drink in the morning turned all day he was at the bar," Fava said. "So the horse, fed up with waiting, the horse came back with all the bread."

So the eldest Fava opened his own shop, the same brick and mortar grocery on North Paca Street. Stepping inside feels like stepping back in time. Regular customers will say that the shop hasn't changed in at least 30 years since the booming days back in the early 80s.

One shelf lined with cannoli shells cuts the front of the shop in half, creating a narrow isle just to the right of the door where the Favas' family pasta shells are kept. There's a red ticket machine to the left of the door that is largely ignored by most new customers, much to the chagrin of the long-time employees behind the counter.

The back of the shop is lined with wine and coolers marked off by a shelf where bakers bring out fresh bread. The middle of the grocery is open to accommodate a lunch rush for the deli counter.

"I've never seen it like this," one woman commented to a friend, standing shoulder to shoulder with around 30 customers packed tightly together, not unlike the imported sardines Fava keeps on his shelves.

"In truth, this was a kind of slow year, but this is the affirmation that we're doing something right," Fava said.

The new shop will open on the ground floor of the Gallery Tower apartment building at Centre Street and Park Avenue in mid-January. Unlike the grocery, the new shop will be more like a café with the same deli menu and tables for diners.

"People today need something quick to eat because everybody is busy. Nobody has time," Fava said.

He lamented that much of his family's customer base are growing older, and "dying off."

"I hate change," Fava said curtly.

"I'm scared because I do not want this to change. That's the main thing. This has to stay the same. … It's my roots," Fava said. "[But] I've always wanted to open up another place to see if this concept will [work] somewhere else, or see if it's just a phenomenon here."

Fava took over control of the shop in 2006. His hope is to one day open up shop in Little Italy, which would seem the most logical location for one of the last truly authentic Italian businesses.

"I knew all those guys in Little Italy," Fava said. "I sat down and talked with Vince [Culotta] from [Sabatino's] because I wanted to take over Panino's … and I just couldn't come and they wanted a lot of money.

"This place was attractive because it's done. It's set up and I love Mount Vernon," Fava continued. "A lot of the customers from Mount Vernon are here… The other thing I like about it is that it's close to this place."

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