“Hold on,” Vince Fava says, breaking off his sentence and excusing himself. An unseen phone begins its second ring in the background. “Let me get the phone.”
And with that the 43-year-old Fava disappears through a door in the back of Trinacria, the west-side store his grandfather opened in 1900. Located at 406 N. Paca St., the Italian grocery store and deli is one of the city’s local institutions, the go-to place for all varieties of pastas, canned tomatoes, fresh-baked breads, deli meats and cheeses, cookies and biscotti, canned anchovies, awesome olives and even finer olive oil, unbeatable prices on bottles of wine, and the most congenial staff on the planet. And for Fava, who has run Trinacria for the past 25 years, the store is, quite literally, his life.
He’s probably waited on you if you frequent the store at all—he’s the easygoing, trim man with a baseball cap and glasses, often clad in workmanlike jeans and a collared shirt beneath a sweatshirt. He’s disarmingly down to earth and exudes an unfussy calm. He meets his interviewer in the back of the store by the wine, coffee, and teas, shrugging, “I don’t have an office. Will this do?”
He smiles at the totally casual setting, a smile that grows even bigger when he talks about how his grandfather, the late Vincent Fava, started the store. Trinacria was originally a bread-baking business located on Pearl Street. It moved to its current, larger location a few years later, but his grandfather eventually decided to abandon bread making.
“Well, evidently one day the guys stopped at a bar and drank, got drunk,” and missed the delivery wagons, Fava says. “So my grandfather said, ‘This is it. I’m not going to do anything like you have to make it today and sell it today.’” Fava’s grandfather decided to make pasta instead.
The pasta store also started selling imported Italian groceries and food stuffs, and has followed that sublimely simple business plan ever since. Fava has changed a few things over the years—he’s stopped the wholesale delivery service of Italian foodstuffs to restaurants and added a deli counter that makes mouth-watering sandwiches and espresso and cappuccino—but for the most part he isn’t trying to fix what isn’t broke.
“Here, we try to keep everything the same,” Fava says. “We don’t make as much pasta as we used to. But the store’s been here for a while, been at the same location all this time. And lately the changes have really been more toward sandwiches and stuff than groceries. A lot of the old-timers used to come in and buy a lot of stuff. Now, when people come in they don’t buy a lot like they used to—a case of this and a case of that. It’s just what you need.”
It’s the managerial role for which Fava was born. The Baltimore native attended Mt. Saint Joseph High School, earned his accounting degree from the University of Baltimore, and then came to work at the store. “I grew up working here,” Fava says. “My mother brought me in—that’s the Italian way, I guess—and I’ve been here ever since. Work, school, came here—I don’t know anything else besides here and home. That’s it.”
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Baltimore, MD 21201