Heights Grocery Takes Us Back to the Old Country
He's a sausage-making singer, and she has stories for days. Together they try to paint a picture of Italian tradition.
“Mmm, it smells good in here,” said Dominic Cinchetti as he walked into D & D Foods.
With a bandage covering his neck, he stopped to breathe a sigh of relief, near the bags of pasta. Cinchetti couldn’t wait to get back to old friends. He couldn’t wait to get back to sausage and tamarindo syrup.
A firefighter in Chicago Heights for over thirty years, Dominic was now fighting for his life. As Mary Ann Damiani-Spyrison cut cheese with a guitar string, he told her about his recent trachea surgery to save his life, adding that he couldn’t wait to get back to the D & D Foods family.
“I love coming here,” said Cinchetti. “I love Mama Ada, she’s a great woman. I couldn’t stay away from this food any longer.”
Over 60 plus years in Chicago Heights, going to D & D Foods is like a high school reunion all over again, only with better food.
Typically Ada “Mama” Damiani greets customers and asks how the family is doing as they move from one aisle to another filled with pastas, coffees and cappuccino cups. A clothesline hangs above various sauces announcing their prices and creating an old country vibe.
Showing that tradition and loyalty are what keep the neighborhood store going, sausage maker Guido Damiani pointed to one of many family photos hanging on the wall.
“My uncle who was a Franciscan priest was on his deathbed in the monastery,” Guido said. “This picture was above his bed. My Aunt was with us and asked if we could take something back to America to remember him by. My uncle pointed to the picture and said ‘Promise me that whenever family comes in your store, you show them this picture to show them where they came from.’
Guido said he kept his promise by doing more than just displaying the photo in the store. See, this sausage maker is a singer, and a copy of that family picture, taken in Ripatransone, Italy in 1910, became the cover of his second CD entitled “Old Vineyards.”
Guido returned to the back of the store. Behind the meat case he makes what customers call "Guido’s sausage," turning the ground pork and spices by hand.
“My grandfather came to Chicago Heights in 1912,” Guido said. “My father wanted to keep his fathers dream alive by having a farm in Italy and a business here. He had to let one go. He decided it would be the farm in Italy. That’s part of our family history. Tradition is what I’ve gotten used to. This is my life. I don’t waste time thinking what else I could be doing, so I write songs. It’s my release.”
The sausage maker is about to release his fourth CD, entitled “Lincoln & Dixie.” He wrote all the songs, and said the title is related to the history of the Heights.
“It’s about how the town used to be,” Guido said. “In this area you could buy anything you wanted. There was work. You could quit one job in the morning and find another one after lunch. That’s in the song.”
As lunch hour approached, D & D Foods began filling up with customers, every one of them Guido and Ada called out by name. Family stories were shared while Guido and his sister Mary Ann weigh and price sausage. Ada stopped and told another story.
“One woman came in and told me she’ll never forget my husband,” said Ada. “As a young girl she saved up her money. The store was selling dolls for a promotion . . . When it came down to tax, she didn’t have enough to pay for it. She said she was brokenhearted. She told me ‘Your husband gave me that doll.’”
The woman in Ada’s story wasn’t around to back it up, but another patron had plenty of positive things to say about D & D.
“Everybody likes Italian food,” long-time customer Don Cull said. “I’ve never seen such a selection in all my life. I’m Irish but converting to be Italian.”
As Guido packed meats, cheeses and tamarindo syrup for Dominic Cinchetti he broke into song “Oh Marie.” Cinchetti then took a deep breath and joined the sausage maker in perfect harmony and in Italian. Guido looked up and said, “I consider all my customers celebrities.”
To hear Guido Damiani sing, listen to the stories of Ada Damiani or try the family’s famous Amasenese sausage, visit them at 1023 Halsted in Chicago Heights.