When I turned 16 and finally got my driver’s license, I had all sorts of fantasies about cruising around Pittsburgh. I pictured myself taking my parent’s car to Get-Go, or to Razzy Fresh in Oakland for some frozen yogurt. (Fro-yo was still a novelty at this point.)
Realistically, when it actually came time to drive, there were very few places I was trusted to take the car. Usually, it was just to run errands for my mom. And one of the very first places she ever trusted me to take the car? Labriola’s Italian Market in Aspinwall.
Like many Pittsburghers that grew up in the city, I have memories of visiting Labriola’s Italian Market that go back for as long as I can remember. And it’s no surprise, as this year, the store is celebrating its 90th year in business.
For nine decades, Labriola’s has been one of the region’s go-to stores for gourmet Italian groceries. In addition to their extensive selection of Italian cheeses, oils, pastas, coffee, sauces, and desserts, they are known for their prepared foods section.
If you’ve ever visited a store, you’ll known the deli case is a sea of Italian dishes, olives, meats, and cheeses. The dishes are freshly prepared in-house by the deli. Favorites like Chicken Romano, Eggplant Napoleon, and Lasagna line the case, and fly out of the store.
“We can’t make enough wedding soup,” laughs Leonard Labriola Jr., son of the original Leonard Labriola, who continues to run the business with his siblings.
The shop now has four locations in Pittsburgh (Monroeville, Fox Chapel, Penn Hills, and Warrendale), but the original location opened in 1929 on Larimer Avenue. At the time, the street was the heart of Pittsburgh’s Little Italy. Leonard Labriola, whose name still adorns the store, established Labriola’s Italian Market in 1929. The shop evolved from a produce stand, where Leonard was a buyer for his cousin.
“It’s my dad. He’s the one who did this,” says Leonard. “He came to this country when he was 16 and somehow made his way to Pittsburgh because he had family here. He worked for his cousin buying produce. He made sure that anything he bought was the best quality. It had to be the best head of lettuce. The best escarole. Fruits. Olive oil. Anything.”
This attention to detail and quality are values that have carried the business for the past 90 years. It’s what Labriola credits with their longevity in the city.
“He gave us a good name, and a policy to buy the best,” says Leonard.
As you might expect from a tiny Italian groceria, Labriola’s has always been, and continues to be, a family affair. Camille Labriola Miksic runs operations at the Aspinwall location, the Monroeville store is managed by Eugene Labriola, Rose Labriola manages the Penn Hills store, and Leonard’s son, Lenny, manages the Warrendale location.
“When you have your name on the building, you have to take extra care,” says Leonard. “If you see something that needs to be done, you do it.”
The original Larimer Avenue shop moved to Hulton Road in Penn Hills in 1969, where it has remained for the past 50 years. Three additional locations followed the Penn Hills store, with the most recent shop, in the Warrendale/Cranberry area, opening about 10 years ago. However, throughout the Labriola’s expansion, the special sauce that makes the store tick has remained the same.
“The values are housed in quality, treating customers right, and paying the bills,” says Leonard.
“When I was a kid, my parents drove me down there on Saturdays and I would sweep the floors and do little thing. If you see me now in the store now, I’m basically doing the same thing.”
The stores offers an extensive, almost overwhelming collection of imported and homemade items. Shelves are lines with boxes of pasta, cans of tomato sauces, bottles of olive oil, and more. The freezer section is loaded with prepared dishes and ingredients. (I personally recommend the mini meatballs.)
There are also a few customer favorites that the stores are known for, including their self-labeled spaghetti sauce, and famous Labriola’s sausage.
“Everyone loves the sausage,” laughs Leonard. “It doesn’t cook down, and has a great flavor.”
Chatting with the family is the best way to learn more about the products, as they have a passion and knowledge of what they serve.
“Oh, they’ll tell you how to cook things. How to use the pizzelle irons. What to put with different types of pasta,” says Leonard.
Much like a beloved Italian dish, the recipe at Labriola’s hasn’t changed much, which is probably what makes it work.
“Something to celebrate my mom and dad. That’s what we’re doing here.”
More information on Labriola’s can be found online.
Leonard Labriola’s Italian Market (Multiple Locations)