La Villa Deli celebrates 50th
Noted Avenue sandwich stop has best ravioli in town, patrons say
When current La Villa Delicatessen owner Dave Bertucelli was just a boy, he would walk down to La Villa and beg the previous owner, Ed Palestro, to sell him the business. When Palestro took Bertucelli up on the offer nearly 20 years later, a surprised Bertucelli quickly accepted. For the past decade, Dave and his wife, Patty, have stood at the helm of one of the Avenue's oldest and most well-known stores.
La Villa celebrates its 50th anniversary this Saturday, and though the Bertucellis have been around for just one-fifth of its life, they plan on celebrating the event with style. The deli will open its storeside parking lot to the public for an all-day festival with food samplings, giveaways and a raffle. Dave Bertucelli is also working to book some live music.
"Since I was a teenager, I always told Ed [Palestro] that if he ever wanted to retire, he should call me up," Bertucelli said. "One day he did. I was managing Cosentino's market at the time."
Since the Bertucellis bought the deli, they've tried to keep its Old World feeling intact, while assuring that their selection and products were up to date.
"Back in the older days, lunch meats sold really, really good, but as people's diets change, you have to adjust," Bertucelli says. "We make more salads and more hot foods now. My wife has implemented a lot of her own recipes."
With the help of Patty Bertucelli's recipes, La Villa customers keep coming back, raving about the food.
"I enjoy fine Italian food, and when I'm in a pinch and I can't cook or I'm too tired, I will go there and order food rather than go to a restaurant and order food," said Willow Glen resident Kandace Tacito. "I'm always really proud when I serve their food; I always think someone's going to think I made it."
Residents say La Villa keeps Willow Glen feeling like the old Italian community it once was. Native Glenites say it's one of the few stores they remember from their youth. Others include Mann Jewelers, the Willow Glen Cyclery and Murisons.
"Lots of changes have happened in Willow Glen. It has been a real thriving little town of its own, and then there was a time when lots of businesses left and the street was pretty bare," Tacito reminisced. "But La Villa has stayed through most of that. It's always really wonderful that you can count on going there and getting great quality. And you certainly can't find the kind of warmth and sincerity that Patty and Dave exude anywhere else."
Patty and Dave Bertucelli have also been active members of the Willow Glen Business and Professional Association. They've provided food for various fundraising events, including food for the bands on Founders Day. And they've let the association use their parking lot for Founders Day and other events. WGBPA president Kathy McDonald says there's no doubt that La Villa's excellent food and great reputation bring business and action to the Avenue.
"They bring a lot of people here from all over. A lot of people come to La Villa for lunch from out of the area," McDonald said. "They have the best ravioli you've had in your life. They melt in your mouth."
McDonald isn't the only one to rave about La Villa's ravioli. Bertucelli proudly says that people often call from out of state requesting shipments of ravioli and sauce.
"I've shipped them to Maine, Georgia and Florida," Bertucelli boasts. "A lot of transplanted people from Willow Glen call, so we freeze them and ship them. Some people come up with their ice chests once a month from Modesto and supply them to all their neighbors."
La Villa was started in 1947 by Anne and Frank Giacomelli. As Bertucelli tells it, they opened shop because more people were moving to the southern end of Lincoln Avenue, and the only place to buy Italian groceries was in downtown San Jose. In about 1967, the Giacomellis sold La Villa to Ed and Rita Palestro, who ran the deli for 20 years.
Today, the Bertucellis still operate La Villa in the same small-town fashion.
"You feel really special when you're there," customer Tacito says. "I frequent Safeway a lot, too, but it's totally different. When I go into the deli, Patty and I visit. We talk about our kids, we share stories. I feel like they really care that I'm there."
From the October 8, 1997 issue of the Willow Glen Resident. Copyright 1997 Metro Publishing Inc. All rights reserved.