Antonella met Raymond Santacroce when she was 16-years-old and the couple have now been married for over 26 years. That they are still madly in love is made evident by their constant joking around, laughing and tendency to complete each other's sentences. To see it, it's as though the duo has their own secret language of code words, gestures and facial expressions.
I had a ball chatting with Antonella and Raymond (although he was in and out of the interview dealing with customers and such). The Santacroces are warm, welcoming, hilarious and among the most down to earth people I have encountered in a long time. They are at six days a week (closed on Sundays) and work side-by-side with their son and employees (who are also like family).
Antonella is a woman who grew up cooking with her Italian mother but who accidentally ended up in the food industry. She insists on keeping the "mom and pop" feeling of her business by maintaining an atmosphere where she knows all her customers by face and name and resisting the pull to expand to multiple locations. She is a woman who cooks with love and you can taste it in everything she makes.
Read below to find out more.
Name: Antonella Santacroce, Raymond Santacroce Age: AS: 48; RS: 53
Hometown: AS: Bocca di Valle in the Abruzzi region of Italy; RS: Philadelphia
Home now: Newtown Square
Favorite thing about the community: AS: Sense of community, the diversity of people, the convenience...We love Villanova University. There are also lots of thriving businesses in the area.
Do you do any work with the community? AS: Yes, we do special events, we donate food and our time to things like the July 4th parade, fundraisers for schools and charities. We give out gift certificates and make donations to local schools and we've done cooking classes for the community. We also did the catering for the Episcopal Academy house tour which is this architectural tour of houses in the area.
Years in the industry: AS: 16; RS: since I was 14 (39 years)
Earliest cooking memory: AS: Cooking with my mom when I was 5. I used to make pasta, meatballs, sausage and even cure prosciutto with my mom.
First kitchen job: AS: Opening Antonella's Kitchen; RS: Working pantry at Gatsby's in Narberth.
What brought you to the industry? AS: It was back in '92 and my husband was working in a deli and it was really busy. He asked me to make a couple of dishes--since he knew what a good cook I was--and the customers loved them. My sister asked me to make some stuff for her and then I started cooking for more friends and family and pretty soon we were spending all of our free time catering for people. At some point we both quit our day jobs and committed to our catering. I wanted to stick with catering and prepared foods but Ray wanted to also do hoagies and sandwiches and now we do both.
RS: My mom was a waitress at Gatsby's and got me the job as pantry cook (cold appetizers, salads, sandwiches).
Advice for home cooks: AS: I want people to know how fun it is in the kitchen. When you cook you need to develop a relationship with your food, how does it smell, look, taste, feel? How you feel about your food translates into the dish.
Favorite thing to cook: AS: Anything with garlic and olive oil... I love to make my spinach pasta which has pasta, garlic, oil, spinach and parmesan. It's an inexpensive, easy dish to make and the possibilities are endless. You can add grilled chicken, roasted peppers, etc.
Favorite menu item: Spinach pasta, grilled chicken, chicken Antonella (chicken medallions, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms and Madeira wine) Healthiest menu items: Diane's chicken hoagie (grilled chicken, fresh mozzarella, roasted peppers & balsamic), veggie hoagie (broccoli di rabe, roasted sweet peppers, tomato and basil) and turkey francesca (gourmet turkey, fresh mozzarella, romaine, tomato & basil).
Favorite local restaurant: AS: Antonella's Italian Kitchen.
Favorite restaurant in the world: AS: Nonna's kitchen (my mom's kitchen), the restaurant in the Dreams Resort in Mexico. They had the most fabulous food I've ever had. I remember this one breakfast dish of french toast stuffed with Nutella and topped with fresh strawberries, whipped cream and pecans.
Guilty pleasure (food or drink): AS: Anything chocolate.
Last meal on earth: AS: I love seafood but I would have to say my mom's homemade spaghetti with really good shaved parmesan cheese and "crunchy hot peppers". My mom grows her own hot peppers with really thin skin. She dries them out in a dehydrator then cuts them across into little rings. She then sautes those rings in olive oil and salt until they are crisp and crumbles them on top of her pasta. We call them "crunchy hot peppers."
Have you cooked for any celebrities? AS: Dave Roberts and Villanova big wigs (numerous coaches and players). One of my old employees actually became a private chef for J. Lo and Marc Anthony.
Favorite food shows? AS: Chopped on the Food Network. I love to figure out how to make delicious things from whatever I had on hand so this show appeals to me.
Biggest kitchen disaster? AS: We had a catering job for 200 people and someone dropped this huge pan of chicken scallopini and it was ruined. We had to start all over again. I think the important thing is that when disasters do happen you have to figure out how to fix it right away and put it behind you. Regardless of what happens you need to produce what you need to produce.