Lauren Lombardi of Lombardi’s Love Lane Market on Celebrating the North Fork by Transplanting a bit of Italy

Q: How did you get to the North Fork?

A: I grew up coming out to the North Fork. My family was in the restaurant business, we were closed one day a week, and that was the day we would come to the North Fork. That’s what we would do as a family. Year round.

Q: One day a week on the North Fork—your family’s only day off—year round. That’s cool. Did you have any particular favorite spots?

A: We’d go to Armando’s seafood barge—a restaurant where A Lure is now.

There’s a rock in front of the building when you park. I remember not being able to climb up and sit on it because I was too little.

Q: How did you get to Lombardi’s Love Lane Shop?

A: So eventually I found my way to Love Lane. I remember seeing the sign, ‘Coming Soon Love Lane Market,’ and I thought ‘what a great place for a market.’

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Eventually the space became available and the timing was good. That same year I got married, in June, graduated the French Culinary Institute in SoHo—August—and opened in September. That was 2014. This September will be three years already. Amazing.

Q: You said you grew up in the restaurant business. What do you mean?

A: My family—my dad’s family—came from Italy. They opened an Italian restaurant in 1976, so it’s all I’ve ever known. I grew up working in the restaurant and the hospitality industry, it’s just in my blood. It taught me at a very young age how much pleasure good food can bring to someone and how important it is to share that pleasure.

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Lauren and her Dad

Q: Part of your market includes freshly prepared foods. Do you use any of the same recipes as your family’s restaurant?

A: The recipes in the market are from generations ago that were brought here by my dad’s family. He grew up in a small town in Italy, outside of Avellino, which is near Naples.

The way they grew up eating was very rustic and very simple. You ate the food that you grew and if you didn’t grow it maybe your neighbor did. Or it came from your town/region. Those were the options.  The recipes are what they’d call peasant food.

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Lots of potatoes, vegetables and the use of stale bread. But good crusty, brick oven bread. It’s all about using the local resources you have and certainly not wasting a crumb.  Simple food, simply prepared.

That’s the way they grew up cooking, the way I grew up cooking. Italian food at its core is comfort food. It nourishes the soul and celebrates the art of eating well with ease.

It fits well with the North Fork because of our roots, our farm culture. The roots I have in Italy really mirror the North Fork.

Q: Do you have a favorite dish that you sell?

A: Yes, our signature porchetta—it’s pork roasted with herbs and then shredded, mixed with broccoli rabe, roasted garlic and cheese.

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Richie and his nephew Chris from Roanoke come in every Sunday for “The Signature.” It’s become their tradition and it makes me smile to see how much they love it.

Q: The North Fork reminds you of Italy, and truth be told we have other first generation Americans with Italian roots here, such as Diliberto Winery and Borghese Vineyard. What is the Italy-North Fork connection that you feel?

A: The culture here really celebrates the same values as Italy, simple, local food, family, community. I think Italians feel at home here on the North Fork, with the food and also the wine—come to our table, come eat. It’s very welcoming.  It’s in our nature to invite guests to our table and share the meal we’ve cooked and celebrate the act of gathering. It’s what we love to do and this setting makes it so effortless. It’s a beautiful thing.

It’s also about the quality of ingredients that both Italy and the North Fork share a strong belief in. Yes the ingredients are simple, but they are also made with pride and quality. Small batch. Local Artisans. Slow Living. It’s all very important in both areas of the world.

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Q: How do you describe Lombardi’s Love Lane Market?

A: It’s a destination; it evokes something different in everyone. Some people get very nostalgic—a customer will say, ‘oh my gosh, it smells like my grandmother’s kitchen.’ Some people just find it as eye candy. There’s something in every corner. So much to look at.  I had one customer say, ‘my wife said she was going to go to Lombardi’s, what did he want, and he told her he couldn’t answer that question, he wanted to go to the store himself because he needs to see everything to figure out what he wants.

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Lauren says: Vinnie our Italian foodie behind the cheese counter

What I intend to do is just inspire people, the chefs, the customers. That’s what I love. To help someone find the perfect ingredient or introduce them to something they’ve never tried before-it’s inspiring for me as well! I love to meet new customers and hear their stories and what they’re cooking.

Q: Besides the fresh prepared food—using old family recipes—what do you offer at the market?

A: Meats, cheese, prepared foods, imported Italian specialties, so much. The most popular items are the things we make by hand, like our fresh mozzeralla, the sausages—it’s a family recipe. I’d love to make fresh pasta there. The community appreciates it. They love the things that are made by hand.

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We also do a lot of catering. I cater weddings, small gatherings—I work directly with all the customers. It’s very personable, I love designing menus. Honestly. I just love working with food. There’s always something new to create and something different to try. I love the creative process of it all.

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Q: For your catering and your market, do you source much on the North Fork?

A: I source a lot on the North Fork, especially for catering—customers want local sourcing. I work with Melissa from The Farm Beyond a lot, also with Mar-Gene, Maryann Krupski. They’re both organic, that’s a popular request. But honestly, I work with many farms, it depends what my clients are looking for.

Q: Any plans to expand or make major changes?

I love the store- but I also enjoy venturing out and doing more collaborating within our community. There’s so many wonderful people to work with! It’s what makes our community so special I do believe!

I’m working on a cookbook, doing a lot of things with the slow food movement here.  My love of photography and print has also lead me down the publishing path and I hope to release a special collaboration project this Spring that I’ve been working on with a few super talented local entrepreneurs. With the culinary school training I wanted to teach culinary classes, and I’ll do that some day. I have a long list.

Q: You’ve mentioned your family a lot. Is this a family business?

A: My family is a very important part of everything I do. It was my dream to be on Love Lane. My dad has such a passion for the business even after 40 years-and he loves helping out at the store. My mom is an excellent cook and is the inspiration behind many of my most well-loved cakes and desserts.  I grew up in a family business where it was our job to feed people and we did it with love. I think that is what has always made it successful. When you cook with heart you can taste it.

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Dad and Grandma

Speaking of helping, the support from my Love Lane neighbors is inspiring. Everyone on that street, we all inspire each other, we all work together. Makes me feel more confident in what I do.  I think we’re all woven together, a business community. I feel very lucky.

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