Glorioso’s Italian Market expands in former storefronts

Michael Muckian, Contributing writer

After six years of consideration, Milwaukee’s Glorioso family is expanding its East Side culinary enterprise.

The decision-making process traces back to December 2010, when Glorioso’s Italian Market, a specialty food store and deli, moved from its original location at 1020 E. Brady St. across the street to its much larger home at 1011 E. Brady St.

The move left the original double storefront available for other projects.

Demolition started in January in preparation for the buildings’ new interiors. The two storefronts will be configured with three concept areas that build on Glorioso’s history as an Italian market and caterer:

  • The scoula will be a hands-on cooking school and demonstration space to educate people about Italian food and culture.

“Our customers have told us that they want more culinary information and to become better educated about Italian food and that they want to get their hands dirty,” general manager Michael Glorioso says. “This space will help accomplish all of those goals.”

  • The eventi will be a demonstration space in which Glorioso’s will hold wine and food events. The space also will provide students who cook at the scoula with a place to enjoy the fruits of their labors.
  • The cucina will house a commercial kitchen to support deli and catering operations. The facility also will host counter service for those who want to have a meal while watching Glorioso’s chefs at work.

“We produce as many as 100 lasagnas at a time and our operation has outgrown our current facility,” Glorioso says. “The kitchen will be designed to meet Glorioso’s needs first and, if there is any time left over, may be made available to personal chefs and anyone else who needs commercial kitchen access.”

Glorioso says it’s too early to estimate a final cost for the property’s redevelopment, but anticipates that it could cost as much as $1 million.

“But we’d be perfectly happy if it came in at $600,000,” he adds.

Historically significant buildings

Glorioso’s Italian Market is now located in what was once the Astor Theater, which opened in 1915. It boasts 10,000 square feet of first-floor retail space, plus 6,000 square feet of office and storage space on the second floor. The family owns the building, in addition to its original Brady Street properties.

The market’s former home was located in two buildings — totaling 6,932 square feet — with two distinctly different but historically significant facades. Both properties are in the National Register of Historic Places’ East Village Historic District, and restoration must comply with standards for historic properties, Glorioso says.

“Historical renovations certainly are more expensive for the buildings, which are 90 and 100 years old, respectively,” Glorioso says. “We’re not asking for any financial support, which is available, but we do want to make every effort to restore the properties to the way they were built and get everyone’s blessing.”

Glorioso has been unsuccessful in tracking down the architect for what he describes as a Germanic-style building. The Italianstyle structure next door was designed by George Zagel, a prolific Milwaukee architect responsible for many commercial and residential buildings in the early 20th century.

Repurposing the storefronts

The Glorioso family took its time in reimagining the historic storefront buildings.

“We’re a very old family with a lot of wisdom behind us,” says Glorioso, part of the second generation to be involved in the enterprise that opened on Valentine’s Day in 1946. “The family said, ‘Let’s sit tight and see how the new market works before we start something else.’”

The restoration project also will restore the upper floors, which host office space and apartments. Legend has it that in one of the studios, Milwaukee author Robert Bloch penned the novel that eventually would become director Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

“I’m told that he did it by the light of the street lamp outside,” Glorioso says, with a chuckle.

The business already employs a staff of 49, and Glorioso anticipates the number may grow by at least a half-dozen once the project reaches completion later this year.

The only thing left, he says, is coming up with a name for the new modular entity.

“I don’t like ‘culinary center’ because it sounds too sterile and like it’s part of a big company,” Glorioso says. “There are a few potential names on the table that I can’t share at this time, but we know it will likely be an Italian term the reflects the warmth and intimacy of our current family-owned operation.”