Elena Durante said stepping into her father's store as a child overwhelmed her senses. Growing up in the family-run grocery business that sold everything from fine wines and olive oils to salt cod and big wheels of cheese, she described the sweet and peppery aromas of imported spices and remembers running her little fingers through barrels of dry beans.
"There were so many products here in the '60s. You'd smell every kind of spice," she said. "I remember my dad coming home at night in his delivery van, and you couldn't really get the smell of Ratto's out of it. I can't really describe it. Think of it as cheesy, fishy, briny, umami-ish."
Durante is the great-granddaughter of Giovanni Battista Ratto, the founder of the premier Oakland grocer, and the man behind its namesake since 1897. As a fourth-generation owner, she took over the business in 2002 from her father, Martin Durante, who had inherited Ratto's in the '50s from his own father, who was also named Martin Durante.
Continuing the family legacy, Elena Durante, who mostly works from home these days, said she plans to eventually retire. When that happens, Ratto's will pass to its fifth-generation owner, Durante's youngest son Jonas Voiron, 31, who's worked at the deli since he was 16 years old, skateboarding up and down Washington Street.
"This is like home. I literally grew up around the corner. We lived there for over 10 years during my whole childhood through high school," Voiron said. "So I was always here every day. This is it. It's like my little neighborhood. I feel like I’m from a small town, and this is my small town."
'The hippies put Ratto's on the map'
When Ratto's first opened in the East Bay in 1897, it was located in a different building on Washington Street. And although it's moved a couple of times in its 125-year history, the business has always remained in the Old Oakland neighborhood.
In 1936, Durante's grandfather bought the building at 821 Washington St., which now also houses Caffe 817 , a European-inspired sidewalk cafe, and District , a wine and cocktail bar right on the corner.
During the '60s, Durante said Ratto's became more of an international grocer known for carrying all the goods that world travelers yearned to taste once they arrived back home.
"My father always said that it was the young people who discovered Ratto's in the '60s. That was really the decade where air travel became affordable for a lot of people. People started traveling abroad and tasting new foods and cuisines," she said. "If they'd gone to India, then they would come back and they would want the chutneys and curries and ghee and lots of different things. We had everything. My dad used to say, 'The hippies put Ratto's on the map.'"
As Ratto's soared through the '60s with its eclectic collection of products from Western Europe, the Middle East, Greece and beyond, Durante said she remembered the place buzzing with the different cultures of customers who shopped there for specialty items and everyday staples.
"As a little girl, I would come in here and hear multiple different languages being spoken," she said. "So you probably had French, Italian, Spanish, Arabic, Portuguese, lots of different languages. It was exciting for that reason alone."
Another comforting sound that she associates with Ratto's history is her mother's voice. As a Juilliard-trained opera singer, Dorotea Durante opened a performance venue and lunch room in the space where District now resides.
"We started something called 'Pasta Opera' back in 1987, and my mom started that just to create a venue for herself, as she was about to turn 60, and she wanted to sing again," Durante said. "She died in 1990. So she was able to sing for the final years of her life and it brought her great joy and it was really popular."
The Pasta Opera was a Friday night institution, a place where locals immersed themselves in live opera and anticipated the pasta dinner that followed. Durante said the venue eventually started hosting Wednesday night jazz with a pianist and a rotating bill of lounge singers. That's what Voiron recalls.
"My earliest memories are that those doors were always open, and I just went running around here back and forth, just going all over the place," Voiron said. "And then, right here, there used to be big barrels of beans and stuff and then I'd just go and run my hands through. It felt really good so I was always doing that."
Hearing this sentiment, Durante laughed.
"I remember my dad yelling, 'Don’t mix the beans!'" she said.
Through the '70s and '80s, Durante said her family reinvented Ratto's to keep up with their customer's changing habits and tastes. As more competition opened in the area and people stopped shopping for all of their gourmet grocery needs, change was imminent. But then, Old Oakland saw a shift.
"Over the decades, it became more of a place for workers downtown to come for lunch, and to also get provisions. But it seemed like every decade we had less grocery offerings," Durante said. "So it's really now become a very popular deli-slash-lunch spot. That's how we stay in business. We're really busy for lunch."
Nowadays, Ratto's is best known for its delicious deli sandwiches made to order. Its top seller, the Italian combo, with a sweet-and-savory red bell pepper spread, leads the menu. The bold flavors tasted in every bite, no matter which sandwich you order, are composed of ingredients sourced from local purveyors. The soft ciabatta rolls and baguettes come from Acme and Bordenave’s. The prosciutto and mortadella, as well as the good, stinky cheeses, are either from Zoe’s Meats in Petaluma or Italfoods in San Francisco. And all the crisp veggies are delivered from C&L Produce near Jack London Square. A real taste of the best from the Bay Area.
"There's also a lot of people who just come for the soup," Voiron said. "There's people who come early, before the soup's even ready."
The soup of the day is made from scratch every morning by Ratto's longtime employees, some who've known Voiron since he was 5 years old. On Fridays, customers can always bet on the house clam chowder, but every day there's always a new soup to pair with a sandwich, whether it be split pea, meatball, minestrone, farro, tomato-basil, corn chowder or broccoli cheddar.
Durante recalls the Ratto's sandwich counter of the past as a no-frills, straightforward service. Customers would walk up, order a mortadella and provolone for two bucks on either a sourdough, sweet or onion roll before hitting the condiment station to add mayo or mustard. Now, patrons walk in, grab an order sheet and check off whatever sandwich they're hungry for, whether it's a build-your-own variety, or the popular turkey and avocado.
One thing's for certain: The Ratto's sandwiches of yore no longer cost $2. Over the past seven months, Durante said she's had to raise the prices twice due to the rising cost of, well, everything. If you want a meat-and-cheese sandwich, it'll cost $11.50, which is still a reasonable price for the sheer quality of ingredients sandwiched between artisan-baked breads. And Ratto's customers, creatures of habit, who stop by on lunch or travel from distances to get their favorite olives, come to pay the family a visit and keep the neighborhood institution busy.
"All of our bread has gone up about 20%," she said. "And the deli meats have gone up about 15 to 16% and then the produce is up. Everything's up. Everything."
More changes are on the horizon for Ratto's, but this time, it's in the form of a complete renovation, and both Durante and Voiron are eager for it to get underway. The central island that houses the deli cases with meats, cheeses and grab-and-go items will be gone, leading to a more open floor plan. Once that's done, the deli counter and food service line will be along the left wall from the front entrance. New lighting fixtures will brighten up the entire space, ample shelving will display all the pastas, sauces and specialty imports that people have grown to love through the years. Brand new walk-in refrigerators, kitchen equipment and a remodeled restroom are also planned new additions to come during the process.
The remodel is the first since Ratto's was forced to renovate after a fire broke out in the former hotel space that operated above the store in 1974. Although some customers have expressed worry about the upcoming changes, Durante and Voiron said the space will be brighter, and it's a necessity to update Ratto's, once again, as it looks toward the future.
"For many generations now, Ratto's has helped many families maintain their culinary traditions," Durante said. "I like to think about that and how it has enhanced people's lives. I sometimes imagine: Is it a Greek family, an Italian family, a Portuguese family, a Brazilian family, African, Spanish, French. What were their conversations like during their time at the table, which is some of the best things that families can do together, eating. I think Ratto's has enhanced that for so many families, and that makes me proud to have stuck it out for this long."
Ratto's , 821 Washington St., Oakland. Open Monday through Friday, 9:30 a.m.-3:15 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m.-3:15 p.m. Closed Sunday.
- These $10 Bay Area lunches are worth every bite
- The 9 Best Places For Solo Female Travel In 2022
- The Bay Area bagel boom continues: Ethel’s lands a permanent home in Petaluma
- How overtime pay went from a labor right to a rarity
- “I Never Dreamed It Would Turn Out This Way”
- Where to eat, drink and play in Holland Village: Restaurants, cafes, bars and lifestyle destinations to check out
- We visit Harry & Meghan’s Montecito neighbourhood where they had 17-course date night & Harry brought his own steak
- Can S.F. Chinatown’s Grant Avenue transform into a ‘must-see’? Locals launch revitalization effort
- Don’t Underrate the Political Spouse
- Cleveland Art Museum Earns Funds For Museum Leadership Diversity
- Where To Go Next: 14 Best Places To Travel In The US In 2019
- Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid
- The rise and rise of op shops, and how browsing the racks brings in revenue for charities
- Special Feature: Greater Boston's Church To Condo Pipeline
- Meet the pair selling Singapore sambal in the States
- Sicily Osteria In New York’s Theater District Would Be Just As At Home In Palermo Or Taormina
|Unofficial Guide to FamilySearch.org: How to Find Your Family History on the Largest Free Genealogy Website$3.53||The History of the Wagenseller Family in America: With Kindred Branches$26.75||Unofficial Guide to Ancestry.com: How to Find Your Family History on the No. 1 Genealogy Website$26.7||The Tenmile Country and Its Pioneer Families A Genealogical History of the Upper Monongahela Valley (With Surname Index) check it now at Amazon||Feathers in the Wind, A Family History About The Descendants of Thomas LaVatta and Tilford Kutch check it now at Amazon||History of the Lemen Family, of Illinois, Virginia, and Elsewhere ...: With Biographical Sketches ... check it now at Amazon||Get Creative with Your Family History check it now at Amazon||Tracing Your Family History on the Internet check it now at Amazon||History Of The Clan Mackenzie, With Genealogies Of The Principal Families Of The Name$38.75||Life Of Jefferson Davis, With A Secret History Of The Southern Confederacy: Gathered Behind The Scenes At Richmond check it now at Amazon||Galatoire's Cookbook: Recipes and Family History from the Time-Honored New Orleans Restaurant$66.87||Publishing Your Family History on the Internet check it now at Amazon||Commentary on the Rule of Life-With a Short History of the Secular Order By Otilio Rodriguez.5.0★ / check it now at Amazon||Duff to McDuffee on one leaf: The family history of James H. Duff-McDuffee and Nancy Ann Whitson, with ancestors and descendants check it now at Amazon||Bear With Me: A Family History of George Halas and the Chicago Bears check it now at Amazon||Genealogical and Family History of the State of Maine, Volume 4$49.89||History of the Town of Stonington, Connecticut : With a Genealogical Register of Stonington Families$65.95||History of the Town of Pittsford, Ot., with Biographical Sketches and Family Records.$37.99||History of the Wingate family in England and in America, with genealogical tables [microform] check it now at Amazon||History of the Clan Ross with Genealogies of the Various Families check it now at Amazon||The Horse: Together With A General History Of The Horse And An Essay On The Ass And The Mule check it now at Amazon||Remembering Solon: A Community & Family History of the Solon Township Area, Leelanau County, Michigan check it now at Amazon||History of the Hamlin family: with genealogies of early settlers of the name in America. 1639-1894.. check it now at Amazon||Family History in the Rio Abajo check it now at Amazon||Finding Your Chicago Ancestors: A Beginner's Guide to Family History in the City and Cook County5.0★ / $1.93||As briefed -- a family history of the 384th Bombardment Group check it now at Amazon||Art Treasures of the Louvre With a Brief History of the Louvre by Milton S. Fox check it now at Amazon||Families with Futures: Family Studies into the 21st Century, Second Edition$99.95||Social Work Intervention with Diverse Families: Applications of the 4-R Model check it now at Amazon||Diary of a Civil War Hero. With a Pictorial History of the War By James Boylan Including a 32 Page Picture Section [R572]$1.93||Family History for the Clueless check it now at Amazon||Genealogical and Family History of the State of Maine;3.0★ / check it now at Amazon||York County, Nebraska and its people : together with a condensed history of the state Volume 1$33.99||Family History of the Simonton and Related Families; Genealogical, Historical and Biographical$23.68||AN American Gospel: On Family, History, and the Kingdom of God$55||Parochial and Family History of the Deanery of Trigg Minor, in the County of Cornwall. [With illustrations.] Vol. II.$46.75||A Family History Comprising the Surnames of Gade, Gadie, Gaudie, Gawdie, Gawdy, Gowdy, Goudy, Goudey, Gowdey, Gauden, Gaudern an check it now at Amazon||Family History on the Net$18.95||Family History in the Genes: Trace your DNA and grow your family tree check it now at Amazon||Autobiography Of Bishop Isaac Lane: With A Short History Of The C. M. E. Church In America And Of Methodism (1916) check it now at Amazon||To Hell With Paradise: A History Of The Jamaican Tourist Industry (Pitt Latin American Series) check it now at Amazon||Family History in the Wars: How Your Ancestors Served Their Country check it now at Amazon||Rendezvous With Destiny: A History Of The 101st Airborne Division (Divisional Series, 55) check it now at Amazon||Genealogy and family history of the William Nelson West (1775-1846) family check it now at Amazon||Writing and Marketing a Family History in the 1990s check it now at Amazon||At Home with God: Family Devotions for the School Year check it now at Amazon||Tracing Your Irish Family History on the Internet: A Guide for Family Historians$7.99||Family History for the Older and Wiser: Find Your Roots with Online Tools$21.99||Genealogical and family history of the state of Maine check it now at Amazon||Genealogical and Family History of the State of Vermont, Volume 1 check it now at Amazon|
Oakland deli with rich family history serves the tastiest cheap sandwiches have 2831 words, post on www.sfgate.com at August 12, 2022. This is cached page on USA Breaking News. If you want remove this page, please contact us.