Most people look forward to taking it easy and traveling in their 60s. But at age 62, Andy and Louise DiFiore had a different retirement plan in mind. They opened DiFiore Ravioli Shop on Franklin Avenue, in Hartford’s Little Italy back in 1982.
Their son Don explains, “My parents were always the home gourmet types. Back in those days, they weren’t called foodies, but they had a lifelong love of food. My dad had been an executive in the office machine world almost his whole life in sales and marketing. And he was probably looking at this more as being a retirement thing for income. Just like a little boutique store. But they stayed with it. My dad would be in the store until he was in his late 80s. And my mom stayed in the store till she was 90. She’s 95 now.”
Then, about five years ago, Don’s father was in a nursing home and his mother was getting too old to run the store any longer. They were going to close it. Then Don’s eldest sister came back home from Chicago to help. “She threw the option at me—do you want to do something with it? Geez, I don’t know.”
Don was in the restaurant business previously as a chef. DiFiore’s Restaurant on Franklin Avenue was right next door to the pasta shop back in the old days. “I had that restaurant for 10 years, then we opened a restaurant in South Windsor. We sold that restaurant and I went into contracting for about seven or eight years.”
“The timing was good. My son, Dan, was aspiring to be a chef. He wanted to follow us into the restaurant industry, and I’m like, no, please, don’t! Then, this came up. Dan was working with me, contracting, and it was a good time for us, so I said, Dan, let’s do this! The store needed a lot of work. We remodeled, put in a whole new kitchen; started pushing the business. It just needed some younger blood in it, really.” They brought their sales up 125 percent in the first two years. And, when the Rocky Hill location became available, they were already looking to open a second store.
Dan chimes in, “We fit the perfect mold for it because we had the contracting experience and the kitchen experience.”
So, Don and Dan jumped into the family business, right around the Fourth of July in 2011. “Our business had been around 29 years at that point, give or take a little bit. We tripled the size of the kitchen. We needed to—we wanted to start doing so much stuff in house, we couldn’t do it with the little six-burner stove we had.”
They now make about 20 different kind of ravioli. And expanded their line of sauces, too. Dan says, “They used to just kind of keep it simple: the meatballs, the marinara, a couple other red sauces, a couple cream sauces, clam sauce. But now we’ve got like 15 sauces that we make. And we keep them in small batches, so they’re always fresh.” They also make compound butters: sage, garlic and gorgonzola, just to name a few.
Many of their customers who grew up with their product have moved from the south end of Hartford down to Rocky Hill, so it’s a perfect location for their second store.
As a home cook, I’ve been going to DiFiore’s for so many years, I can’t recall my first visit. What I do remember is, after tasting their homemade crepe-like manicotti, I never bothered making my own anymore. And if I didn’t have my own sauce, I gladly bought some of theirs as it tasted like home to me.
Now, beyond the two storefronts, DiFiore’s wholesales to at least a dozen local restaurants, plus all the Highland Park Markets and West Side Market in Rocky Hill. Come June, you can find them at the Coventry and South Windsor farmers’ markets and at the markets at Botticello Farms in Manchester.
“We do a lot of things specifically for the farmers’ markets,” Dan says. “Every week, they do themes at the Coventry market, so we like to try to make something special. Last year, one of the big themes was blues, brews and barbecues. So we made a beer-b-q sauce with a local beer to go with our tenderloin and bacon ravioli.”
Cheese and meat ravioli are the popular everyday favorites—so much so, cheese ravs are made fresh daily. But their biggest theme ravioli is corned beef, cabbage and mashed potato in a spinach pasta for St. Paddy’s Day. Paired with their Guinness stout mustard sauce, these are a favorite and sold out very quickly this year.
Beyond the array of fresh pastas and sauces, they have deli cases of prepared foods ready to go. I asked what some of the more popular items were. “Chicken cutlets. We go through a ridiculous amount. We make them fresh every day and we go through a ton. The veggies have been popular, the green beans, fingerling potatoes and sausage and peppers.”
Of course, there’s Sicilian olive oil, loaves of fresh bread, and several flavored olive oils and balsamic vinegars you can sample before they bottle it for you. My latest favorite is their orange, mango and passionfruit white balsamic.
And to end on a sweet note, in addition to desserts made in store, they also bake quite a few cookies. Their Sicilian orange ricotta cookies are made practically daily “because they fly out of here.” No matter what you feel like cooking up—or simply heating up or eating up—you won’t run out of delicious choices at DiFiore’s.
DiFiore Ravioli Shop is located at 556 Franklin Avenue in Hartford and 397 Cromwell Avenue in Rocky Hill, CT.
Hartford: (860) 296-1077
Rocky Hill: (860) 257-2782