How J.P. Graziano Reinvented Its 84-Year-Old Shop By Teaming With Rappers, Fashion Designers And Serving Up Late-Night Eats

CHICAGO — Jim Graziano by no means pictured rapper Freddie Gibbs passing out sandwiches at midnight behind the counter of his household’s 84-year-old Italian meals importing and distribution enterprise.

His great-grandfather, Vincenzo Graziano, used to depend the cash behind that very same wood counter at 901 W. Randolph St. again in 1937 when he began J.P. Graziano Grocery, promoting wholesale Italian merchandise like olive oil, baccalà and pastas to different mom-and-pop outlets in what’s now often called the West Loop.

Throughout Lollapalooza final 12 months, the old-school retailer was the positioning of one of many metropolis’s hottest afterparties.

Jim Graziano teamed up with Gibbs, Los Angeles road designer Anwar Carrots and Chicago streetwear pioneer Joe Freshgoods for a midnight pop-up on the family-owned store, promoting limited-edition T-shirts that includes all of their manufacturers. There have been loads of Italian subs to go round, too. 

Because the fourth-generation proprietor of J.P. Graziano, Jim Graziano, now 41, is working to maintain the historic enterprise contemporary. 

“There’s a ton of life on this place,” Graziano stated. “I can promote to an 85-year-old girl that’s been buying right here for 60 years, however I can even hyperlink up with Joe Freshgoods and make the baddest hoodie anyone has seen of their life. And we’ll throw a block get together on Randolph on 4 hours’ discover.”

Freshgoods, actual title Joseph Robinson, tweeted in regards to the occasion simply 4 hours prior, drawing traces down the block to Washington. Robinson, a Graziano devoted, stated the store “makes you are feeling at house.” 

“It’s a kind of spots that retains me staying in Chicago. It’s timeless,” Robinson stated. “With Chicago being such an enormous meals metropolis, they’re grandfathered into our tradition. We’re two Chicago staples, so it was the proper marriage.” 

Graziano stated that the household enterprise is a “dwelling Chicago museum.” The smells of spices and olives and cheese and meat have lengthy seeped into the traditional partitions. Clients cease by in the summertime simply to “take a whiff” of the Chicago nostalgia. 

Outdated cabinets are scattered with leftover tin cans of “Victoria” model olive oil that Vincenzo used to hand-pack within the basement. Indicators made within the Nineteen Twenties grasp above with easy choices of “Meats” and “Groceries.” Graziano’s sister, DeAna, works behind the sturdy wood pay window the place her great-grandfather made his second house — and Freddie Gibbs that one time.

Credit score: Colin Boyle/Block Membership Chicago
DeAna Graziano works behind the counter at J.P. Graziano Grocery, 901 W. Randolph St., within the West Loop on Jan. 20, 2022.

Anchoring the center of J.P. Graziano is the household’s century-old, iron-clad secure. It nonetheless has the dent marks made by robbers after they took a hammer to it after carving by way of the constructing’s roof within the Nineteen Forties, Graziano stated. 

The constructing has survived all of it, seen all of it, by way of eight decades-plus of neighborhood change.

“The guts of this neighborhood remains to be alive and properly. It’ll all the time be an old style idea right here,” Graziano stated. “However now there’s the Nobu Resort throughout the road.” 

Graziano stated he was a sophomore at DePaul College when he felt the “magnetic pull” to guide the household enterprise into its subsequent era. The true household inheritance, Graziano stated, is Vincenzo’s immigrant work ethic and a artful sense of entrepreneurship. 

However what would great-grandpa take into consideration the events? The rubbing-elbows with vogue designers and rappers? Would he rock the t-shirt and associate with it? 

“He would simply ask me one query,” Jim Graziano stated. “‘Are you taking good care of your loved ones?’” 

Credit score: Supplied
Nice grandfather Vincenzo James Graziano, his sons Alfedo and Paul outdoors the store in 1943.

Graziano stated 2020, regardless of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, was the enterprise’ most profitable 12 months thus far. 

At first of the brand new 12 months, Graziano opened a warehouse in suburban Norridge to meet orders for his new sister firm “Style Actual Chicago,” which sells and ships bottles of J.P. Graziano’s most well-known condiments — like giardiniera and muffuletta — to house kitchens across the nation.  

The enterprise should adapt, Graziano stated, however the values and classes of his legendary Chicago-Italian household have all the time stayed the identical. 

“I’m deep rooted within the historical past and the authenticity and the legacy of this place, however might it’s extra?” Graziano stated. “All the pieces I do, I need it to make sense for what we’re, who we’re, what I used to be raised by.”

Credit score: Colin Boyle/Block Membership Chicago
Sandwiches are ready at J.P. Graziano Grocery, 901 W. Randolph St., within the West Loop on Jan. 20, 2022.

‘If Folks Don’t Stroll In That Door, We Don’t Put Footwear On Our Ft

Throughout lunch rush on a latest Thursday, with hungry Chicagoans ready for a chew in arduous hats and fits alike, Jim Graziano was continually in movement. He picked up the telephones, mounted the ball-bearings on the meat slicer, and dished out encouragement to the quick-handed sandwich line like an impassioned highschool soccer coach. 

Graziano remembers when he was a child and his dad, James F. Graziano, would deliver him to the store “kicking and screaming.” Summers of “breaking ass” on the household store was a rite-of-passage, a first-hand schooling within the Graziano manner. 

James F. Graziano’s first lesson: “If folks don’t stroll in that door, we don’t put footwear on our ft.”

“You began on the underside rung. I swept the flooring, and I nonetheless do,” Jim Graziano stated. “My household taught me tips on how to come to work each single day. It doesn’t matter what. That’s the work ethic.”

Credit score: Supplied
Jim Graziano and his father, James F. Graziano.

Vincenzo Graziano immigrated to Chicago from Sicily within the early 1900s, with no cash to his title. He labored varied odd jobs and saved as much as open a nook retailer, Graziano Grocery Firm, at 1376 W. Grand Ave. within the Nineteen Twenties, promoting groceries like milk and bread to neighbors. 

The Nice Despair pressured the store to shut, and Vincenzo, considering quick on his ft, went to work for his father-in-law on the Chicago Macaroni Firm. Shifting macaroni taught Vincenzo the ins-and-outs of importing and distributing meals from Italy to the U.S.

RELATED: J.P. Graziano Celebrates 84 Years Of Feeding Chicago, From Italian Imports To Legendary Sandwiches 

After reopening the Grand Avenue store, Vincenzo Graziano purchased a bit of the manufacturing unit at 901 W. Randolph St. in 1937 to promote specialty Italian-imported wholesale merchandise to native eating places, delis and mom-and-pop outlets. Graziano’s brother lived in Sicily and made packing containers for a dwelling. The 2 collaborated to field and ship hand-picked unique manufacturers of pastas, cheeses, meats and olive oils to Chicago. 

The enterprise has since been handed down by way of 4 generations, Jim Graziano stated, from his great-grandpa Vincenzo to grandpa Alfredo and great-uncle Paul, to father James F. Graziano and his brother-in-law Larry Pienta. 

Credit score: Supplied
Second-generation homeowners Alfredo and Paul Graziano had been instrumental in increasing the household enterprise past the grocery retailer and into wholesale and distribution.

Jim Graziano took over the enterprise the day his father died in 2008. He knew that day, like day by day, he needed to go to work. 

“Somebody wanted to load the truck. It was a Tuesday. My dad instructed me I needed to go to work day by day. And there was work to do,” Graziano stated. “I acquired myself collectively.” 

Graziano was placing out wholesale packing containers for morning pickup on the day his father died when Oscar Sanchez simply occurred to be strolling down Randolph Avenue, and requested, “Do you want any assist?” 

“I wanted assist at that second greater than I ever wanted it,” Graziano stated. “So I stated choose up that case and put it on the truck.”

Graziano employed Sanchez on the spot, and now he’s the store’s longest tenured worker — the person each sandwich should undergo. Again in 2005, Graziano had seemed on the books and observed the household’s wholesale enterprise was struggling. He pitched to his father the prospect of promoting sandwiches within the nook of the shop, veering away from the household’s tried-and-true origins. 

Now, J.P. Graziano sells tons of of sandwiches a day, with traces throughout lunch hours. Graziano went all-in on Italian subs and shut down the wholesale enterprise a couple of years after his father died. 

“I tore myself aside once I knew I needed to shut down the wholesale enterprise. I believed I had to surrender my great-grandpa’s legacy,” Graziano stated. “However the sandwiches simply saved rising and rising, at the same time as this neighborhood flipped on its head. I wasn’t giving it up, I used to be making it final.” 

Credit score: Colin Boyle/Block Membership Chicago
Jim and DeAna Graziano pose for a photograph at J.P. Graziano Grocery, 901 W. Randolph St., within the West Loop on Jan. 20, 2022.

Graziano nonetheless heard an earful from long-time prospects lacking the glory days of wholesale, particularly the giardiniera, an iconic Italian-Chicago relish of pickled greens, olive oil and a Graziano-twist of Manzanilla olives. The recipe had been within the household because the Nineteen Fifties. 

Graziano began pulling guys off of the sandwich line to bundle 16-ounce bottles of giardiniera for loyal prospects. The jars had been successful. Graziano partnered with a third-party distributor in 2019 and began promoting giardiniera and muffuletta to home-kitchens throughout the nation. 

Together with his new warehouse in Norridge, Graziano stated he’ll proceed to promote “tons of of hundreds of jars” of “Style Actual Chicago” merchandise every year. About 95 p.c of gross sales come from prospects outdoors town. 

“We’re introducing Chicago tradition to everyone else,” Graziano stated. “Your prospects begin as individuals who know this giardiniera from being in Chicago. They transfer away, their household strikes away, they usually ship it. As a result of this to me is the Chicago condiment. It’s as actual to Chicago because it will get.” 

Credit score: Colin Boyle/Block Membership Chicago
Gentle giardiniera on the market at J.P. Graziano Grocery, 901 W. Randolph St., within the West Loop on Jan. 20, 2022.

Bottling the household nostalgia for a brand new age of at-home cooks stuck-at-home helped J.P. Graziano keep afloat throughout the pandemic.

And there was extra household magic, Graziano stated, watching over these historic partitions. 

The primary time Graziano renovated the constructing, he found, beneath a dense layer of brick, the unique door his great-grandfather used because the storefront. With its chipped inexperienced paint and barn door, Graziano reimagined it as a late-night walk-up window. 

J.P. Graziano now has expanded hours to 1 a.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays to serve hungry late-night revelers within the stylish Fulton Market District. When COVID-19 shut down indoor eating, Vincenzo’s old-school door supplied a socially distanced resolution. 

“What acquired us by way of COVID was this walk-up window,” Graziano stated. “All the pieces on this place is necessary to me. It retains you grounded to the place you began. What your roots are.”

Graziano original the old-school door with a blow-up picture of great-grandpa Vincenzo, grandpa Alfredo and great-uncle Paul — one of many solely recognized photographs of them working the enterprise. 

“My great-grandpa didn’t give a shit about my Instagram web page. They had been too busy working to take footage,” Graziano stated. “Folks nonetheless wanted to stroll by way of that door. On this enterprise you gotta be capable to get punched within the mouth, and preserve going.”

Credit score: Colin Boyle/Block Membership Chicago
Jim Graziano reveals off the unique entrance at J.P. Graziano Grocery, 901 W. Randolph St., within the West Loop on Jan. 20, 2022.

‘One Hand Washes The Different, Each Palms Wash The Face 

Joe Freshgoods’ favourite Graziano sandwich is a turkey/roast beef combo with provolone cheese, sizzling peppers and mayo. Graziano named it after him, “The JFG Sandwich,” some of the well-liked on the store’s secret menu, paying old-school respects to the stylish West Aspect streetwear designer who has merged Chicago tradition with multinational manufacturers like 7-Eleven, AT&T, the White Sox, the Bears and New Stability. 

“To not be biased, however my sandwich is one of the best sandwich,” Robinson stated. “It’s timeless. It’s all the time going to style the identical. The identical fingers make it with love each time. Actually good, bread, meat, cheese — f–ok it, now I’m speaking about it, I’m gonna get that for lunch in the present day.” 

Graziano remembers Robinson as simply one other regular buyer, one who occurred to be “dressed so cool.” Graziano’s eyes popped when he seemed him up and noticed his following. 

“I’m simply the best, hippest, youngest man you’ll ever meet,” Graziano stated with a chuckle. “Inform my daughter about that and also you’ll see eyes roll out of her head.”

Graziano despatched a handwritten letter and 4 jars of giardiniera to Robinson’s retailer, Fats Tiger Workshop. Robinson despatched him again a pair of his signature New Stability sneakers. 

Friendship blossomed. 

“I used to be shocked that Jim knew who I used to be,” Robinson stated. “However he’s simply such a warm-hearted, household dude. After which generally it’s like, ‘Let’s simply pop-off on some fly shit.’” 

Graziano and Robinson concocted a plan to host an after-party at J.P. Graziano following Freddie Gibbs’ Lollapalooza set. Robinson stated the midnight pop-up was “form of a bizarre factor.” Occasion shirts bought out nearly immediately. Graziano felt dangerous and gave everybody else in line a free sandwich. All proceeds on the night time had been donated to Robinson’s charity, Group Items.

“The folks had been going nuts,” Graziano stated. “It was one of many coolest nights I’ve ever been right here. Nevertheless it simply begins like every thing else, simply two Chicago guys that share a ardour for staying actual to your metropolis.” 

Graziano stated he was first launched to streetwear and hip-hop tradition when a neighboring advert company, The Instances, invited him to share a sales space at ComplexCon in 2019. Graziano introduced his meat-slicer and a few sandwiches and stated he felt like “the most important sore thumb protruding.” 

“I noticed driving house at 2 o’clock within the morning, all these items simply racing by way of my head — ‘Actual,’” Graziano stated. “All the pieces there’s so actual, has a narrative, is broadly genuine. These folks don’t care what everybody else says and thinks, they only create what’s simply dying to pour out of them. That’s what road tradition is.”

Credit score: Colin Boyle/Block Membership Chicago
DeAna Graziano reveals off her Gente Fina x J.P. Graziano jacket at J.P. Graziano Grocery, 901 W. Randolph St., within the West Loop on Jan. 20, 2022.

Graziano was all of the sudden within the enterprise of promoting not simply sandwiches, however the story of his household — the grit, the hustle, the authenticity of hard-working Italian immigrants who sustained a Chicago dynasty from the bottom up. 

Jars of peppers, sandwiches and pleasant notes went out to extra Chicago manufacturers that Graziano admired. His most profitable partnership is with the Chicago chapter of Barstool Sports activities, the polarizing media model that promotes a “Barstool Beef Equipment,” a bundle of mezzo giardiniera and Italian beef seasoning to placed on slow-cooked Italian beef. 

Graziano stated the “Barstool Beef Equipment,” nonetheless lower than a year-old, is already the “frontrunner” for the enterprise’ best-selling product. 

“They’re simply actual Chicago guys, a very natural relationship, and I do know every thing we talked about, I noticed nearly instantly take off,” Graziano stated.

Credit score: Colin Boyle/Block Membership Chicago
The Beef Equipment and sizzling giardiniera on the market at J.P. Graziano Grocery, 901 W. Randolph St., within the West Loop on Jan. 20, 2022.

The spirit of collaboration with fellow Chicago companies could be traced again to great-grander Vincenzo, Graziano stated. Within the early days of his first grocery on Grand, Vincenzo Graziano was only one hyperlink in a community of Italian immigrants, like “the fish man, the meat man, the provision man,” Jim Graziano stated, who mutually supported one another with their totally different items. Graziano stated his great-grandfather would preserve tabs open for neighbors, on the belief that they’d pay him again on the finish of the week. 

He used to say, “One hand washes the opposite, each fingers wash the face.” 

“Chicagoans are all on this collectively,” Graziano stated. “If you make all of it a two-way road, when everyone walks away feeling they gained, these are one of the best relationships.” 

Throughout lunch rush DeAna Graziano labored behind her great-grandfather’s pay window sporting a jacket the household enterprise made in collaboration with Gente Fina, a Latinx-owned streetwear model began in Chicago. 

The entrance of the varsity jacket reads “Chicagoan” and again, “Until Chicago Ends.” Graziano stated it could be his favourite collaboration but. 

“That’s what it’s all about. These are the those who come to my retailer. They know that we characterize the true Chicago. That’s what we stand for,” Graziano stated. “That love will not be a flash-in-the-pan form of success. It’s sustainable.”

Graziano jolted again to the sandwich line. Oscar Sanchez utilized the meat, basic supervisor Shaun Ache (which translated in French, means “bread”) labored the bread, and Graziano wrapped the sandwiches utilizing his signature method. 

The store is as busy because it’s ever been, Graziano stated, however regardless of the expansion, the clout, it’s the ball-busting work ethic, handed down from his immigrant great-grandfather Vincenzo and thru generations of Chicagoans, that retains the lights on. 

Jim Graziano’s two youngsters, 9-year-old Francesca and 5-year-old Vincenzo, are already packing jars of giardiniera at house. 

“I inform them, the meals in your plate comes from these peppers,” Graziano stated. “Our coronary heart and soul is on Randolph Avenue. And my coronary heart might explode with satisfaction and pleasure, if I’m round lengthy sufficient, for considered one of them to take over.” 

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