The Italian Market Festival takes over South 9th Street this weekend, with food, music and festivities. Right in the middle of the Philly’s largest block party you’ll find a special Di Bruno Bros. piazza, where the family-run gourmet grocery will celebrate 75 years in business with a throwback photo booth, temporary tattoos, and - of course - plenty of cheesy snacks.
Emilio Mignucci is one of the third-generation owners, and he remembers attending the festival as a kid. We talked to him about his days growing up in the Italian Market, his favorite Di Bruno Bros. snacks and his grandfather Danny Di Bruno, who co-founded the business with brother Joe Di Bruno in 1939.
Did you hang out in the original 9th Street store as a kid?
All the time. I used to get myself in trouble, though. We had these buckets of dried beans and one day I was playing with the big metals scoops and mixed all the beans up. My grandfather made me sit there and separate them all by hand. I never did that again.
What was your favorite cheese to eat back then?
Provolone. And it’s still my favorite. I snack on it all the time, it brings back good memories.
Other favorite Di Bruno’s snacks?
Pepperoni with our Abbruzze cheese spread. I cut the pepperoni into thick strips and just dip it in the cheese - no bread, no crackers.
Do you ever eat elsewhere in the Italian Market?
George’s. I sneak over there all the time for lunch. Either a roast pork hoagie with long hots or a burger, which I get topped with pork gravy. I grew up in that joint, been eating there all my life.
What’s your earliest memory of the Italian Market Festival?
Going to our store the night before the festival with my cousin Bill [Mignucci Jr., Di Bruno Bros. co-owner] and trying to help. Everyone was super busy, making stuff for the next day, and we tortured the adults. Mostly we were just in the way.
Did they let you help?
My grandfather Danny Di Bruno found a good way to keep us busy. He went out and bought us a box of lemons, and told us to make lemonade and set up a stand to sell cups for 50 cents a piece.
Was the lemonade stand a success?
Oh yeah. That was really the start of being an entrepreneur for Bill and me. My grandfather put the bug in us. The next year we sold hoagies, and it just grew from there. Then in 1990 we took over the business.
What’s the most important business lesson your grandfather taught you?
That you can never take your customers for granted. The reality is there are plenty of places to shop. People work hard for their money and they don’t have to spend it in your store. So you give people an experience, make them feel comfortable, make them feel welcome, like friends.