South Bend Indiana's Calabrian Connection
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, a small group of Italians hailing from Calabria—the area that forms the “toe” of the boot-shaped peninsula—settled in St. Joseph County, Indiana, to work in local manufacturing plants. Some went on to establish their own small businesses, such as grocery stores and bakeries that offered both local fare and Italian delicacies.
South Bend has a trio of specialty food shops run by husband-and-wife teams, each with at least one spouse who descended from that Calabrian community. They continue to offer the best of local and domestic foods, along with a mix of Italian (in some cases Calabrian) and international treats.
“If you can’t find it at Bamber’s, chances are you won’t find it anywhere else in town,” says Gini Bamber. She and husband Gene, whose paternal grandparents were born in Calabria, have transformed what was once a simple grocery owned by Gene’s folks into a veritable jewelry store of primarily Italian epicurean delights, elegantly displayed in dark wood or stainless-steel Metro shelves. They offer some seasonal and locally sourced products—mainly produce and meats. But it’s their eclectic selection of olive oils (there are over 70), balsamic vinegars (more than 50 varieties), luxury items such as Italian truffie salt, and a choice array of teas and coffees (they now carry the famous “bean” brewed in Rome’s renowned Sant’Eustachio Caffè) that entice shoppers into their eponymous market. If you’re looking for the perfect libation to pair with a meal, Gene is always on hand, dressed in his familiar blue shop coat, and is an expert on their extensive selection of wines, beers, ports and liquors. Bamber’s also prepares special antipasto trays for parties.
MACRI’S ITALIAN BAKERY
George and Carmela Macri met 35 years ago when he hired her to work in his parents’ bakery. “My parents immigrated here from Calabria, and they dreamed of starting a business,” George recounts. “My mom always wanted a bakery, so she achieved that—and gained an Italian-American daughter-in-law.” The Macris used to prepare Italian breads and pastries in their little bakery on LaSalle Street. Then, 19 years ago, George and Carmela took over the business and moved into their current spacious shop, where they set up a café/market that serves grilled Italian panini, soups and salads. They also carry cured Italian meats, cheeses and Calabrian olives—cured with wild fennel. You’ll find a wide selection of imported dried pasta, along with ravioli, cannelloni, tomato sauce and pizza dough—all housemade—and a small selection of Italian, international and domestic wines. Pastries are still a Macri specialty; their custom occasion cake service, particularly for weddings, keeps the bakery end of the business thriving. They also offer catering.
OH MAMMA’S ON THE AVENUE
Oh Mamma’s on the Avenue is a little gourmet shop run by artisan cheese makers Jody and Josiah (Joe) Klinedinst. Both grew up with an appreciation for good food—Jody’s family are farmers and Joe’s Calabrian-born maternal grandparents raised goats and made Calabrese-inspired dishes. A mutual love of goat’s milk spurred the couple’s acquisition of several goats and experimentation with small batches of fresh cheese. The hobby became serious work when they traded corporate jobs for a stand in the South Bend Farmers Market, fulfilling their dream of becoming cheese purveyors, and selling primarily Italian foods and groceries. The newly opened shop on Beyer Avenue (just down the road from the farmers market) is set to become a cheese emporium, which will feature 300 varieties of local, domestic and international cheeses—currently there are around 80 selections— and highlight J2K Capraio, their farm’s seasonal fresh goat cheese. In addition to a copious collection of cheeses, there are several varieties of cured Italian meats, panini and Calabrian pastries such as nacatola—a sweet anise-flavored fried donut-like twist—to name a few. Plans are in the works for goat gelato, fudge and cheesecake. The shop features a small eat-in area, a takeout menu and catering.