D'Amico roasts 300 to 500 pounds of coffee beans every day. With 70 varieties, try Kenya AA and Sumatran French Roast.
Photo by Joshua Kristal
This is a love story, in two parts.
Part One: Glances and giggles over aisles of Italian groceries at D’Amico Foods on Court Street, between Sackett and Degraw. Back then, 1990, D’Amico, the place that blasts the smell of roasting coffee beans into Carroll Gardens air every day, was a grocery store.
Francis (Frank Jr.) was managing the store while his dad, Frank Sr., recuperated from a triple bypass.
Joanny grew up on Wyckoff. She used to leave her keys at D’Amico’s, so groceries could get delivered to her apartment if she wasn’t home. The shop had lots of house keys back then.
“I shopped here all my life,” Joanny said. “I was next door, getting my nails done. I used to come in here all the time.”
“To annoy me,” says Francis.
“Yeah, to annoy him. To chat and kill some time.”
Something spilled on Joanny’s shirt. There was a joke, something to the effect that Francis should buy Joanny a new shirt. Someone said he should buy her dinner. She jumped at the suggestion.
And there you have it. They were married three years later.
Francis and Joanny D’Amico.
Back then, Francis was working for the IRS, and Joanny, in bankruptcy court, at Borough Hall.
Francis’ grandfather, Emanuele D’Amico, came from Palermo, Sicily, in the 40s. After working for a laundry service, he opened the grocery store in 1948. Later, he bought the building. His son, Frank Sr., eventually took over the shop.
Back then, D’Amico didn’t have much coffee, just an Italian, dark roast, and an “American,” brown roast.
Emanuele’s brother in law, Alessandro, came from Italy to help out. Here is where the second part of the love story comes in.
Alessandro got very passionate and serious about roasting coffee. He roasted the beans darker, then lighter, mixing and matching. He created special blends for different neighborhoods. He was adamant about getting the roast just right. His picture is on D’Amico’s logos and in the shop.
In 2006, Zagat’s rated D’Amico the best coffee in NYC.
Today, D’Amico roasts about 300 to 500 pounds of coffee every day, Francis says.
After they were married, Francis and Joanny took over running the store. They expanded the coffee line and began wholesaling. They created a website and catalogue. Now they mail order all over the world. It’s a “huge” part of the business, they said.
Francis says D’Amico’s ships about 52 packages—coffee, tea, spices, cheese—per week.
“The mail order is what keeps our coffee fresh. It doesn’t just sit here. We have a quick turnaround,” Joanny said.
The 63-year-old shop has a lot of history. It was a neighborhood hangout, a place for families. Many in our neighborhood buy their coffee at D’Amico, but what Joanny and Francis want folks to realize is—it’s also a great place to get a sandwich, or to sit in the back and have an espresso or cappuccino, let the kids run around and read the paper; or to buy pasta, coffee and tea accessories, and cheese.
“We can have the same cheese as Stinky Bklyn, but people prefer to buy it there,” Francis said.
D’Amico’s Italian hero sandwiches are excellent—they use high quality deli meats, sliced well, piled just right with whatever toppings you like. This shop knows how to make a sandwich. I take mine with lettuce and tomato, oil and vinegar, mustard and jalepenos. It’s $5 for a hero and soda and D’Amico’s will deliver (even a single sandwich) for free – daily from 11 to 6 (Sunday, 10 to 3) to anywhere from Hamilton Ave. to Montague St. It’s hard to beat a deal like that.
Nothing fancy. Just good.
Roast beef is made in-house. But you should call to see when it’ll be roasted. It sells out quickly, Joanny says.
What’s the key to D’Amico’s survival, when so many of the shops from the 1930s, 40s and 50s have closed?
Francis attributes it to his father, Frank Sr.
“My father would always change with the times. He brought in Goya stuff because he saw the neighborhood change, and now he wants me to put more seating in here.”
What’s D’Amico’s golden rule? Frank Sr.’s philosophy, Francis and Joanny say, of “never say no.”
“We always try to match the customers taste. We’ll do anything.”
Francis tells a story: When his dad, Frank Sr., was running the grocery store, he didn’t sell cigarettes. But if a customer wanted them, he’d go to another store and barter, so he could deliver cigarettes with the groceries.
Another: Frank Sr. would lend people money, and keep their keys to deliver groceries if they weren’t home. There was trust, everyone knew everyone. Recently a man who moved away came back to repay Frank Sr. $100–20 years after he borrowed it.
Families relied on the shop; some parents it as their emergency contact for school.
Joanny said she misses families coming in just to hang out. Saturdays used to be “daddy morning,” when the dads would bring kids to D’Amico’s back cafe, “pajamas, no shoes, the kids climbing all over. The shop is an extension of our family, and we like that,” Joanny said.
It’s happening again, more and more. Francis and Joanny want everyone to come in, to hang out, to eat.
Francis tried to get Joanny to move to Bay Ridge.
“I wanted a driveway,” he says.
She wouldn’t hear of it.
“I love it here. It’s homey,” Joanny says.
They look at each other, smirk, and smile.
Back to work.
309 Court Street, between Sackett and Degraw
Read about another Court Street institution, Esposito’s Jersey Pork Store, in Carroll Gardens since 1922.
And Court Pastry, serving old-fashioned and rare Italian cookies and pastries made on a pink marble table from Italy that has sat in the shop since the 1890s.