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Runner-Up: Valli Produce
January 27, 2023
Alfredo Presta, an Italian immigrant, opened Valli intending to bring the nostalgic cuisine from his childhood in Valli, Italy, to his new home in America. The first Valli Produce store was opened in Arlington Heights, and has since been spreading slowly but surely across Illinois cities throughout the next thirty years.
Evanston’s Valli Produce lies in Evanston Plaza, in an outcrop of local stores, restaurants, and community spaces. Nestled in between the local Goodwill and several small businesses, the Valli sign is visible from blocks away. The 2015 opening of Valli marked an appreciation of the diverse communities and cultures in and around Evanston.
“I was at the grand opening of Valli Produce,” senior Ayla Conn recalls. “Me and my friend went with Dance Center Evanston to see the ribbon cutting ceremony. They have an astounding variety of pasta, I remember laying on the floor of the pasta aisle.”
Valli Produce was not only one of the first grocery stores in the area with international and ethnic cuisines, but also fulfilled a need for produce and groceries in the second ward. Prior to the opening of Valli, the nearest grocery store was the Jewel Osco on Chicago Avenue, a trip that would require a car to comfortably make.
“I think it’s better than Jewel Osco, it’s more efficient. The workers are always restocking the shelves and they’re interested in helping you,” says sophomore Andy Mertz. “At Jewel Osco, you don’t really see them around the store. There’s not much help you can get.”
Many Evanston residents consider Valli Produce to be their go-to grocery store. One such Evanstonian is senior Delilah Salzinski, whose parents are both professional chefs.
“They have a lot of good quality products and ingredients, and it’s nice that you can walk in and get a quick meal. My family does the majority of our shopping at Valli.”
Now, almost ten years after its opening in Evanston Plaza, Valli continues to be a go-to for Evanstonians to find international food selections for an inexpensive price. It specializes in Italian and Greek foods, but also has a wide selection of foods from India, Spain, Asia, Poland, the Middle East, and Latin America.
“People who live around here who don’t like American food or are from somewhere else can go there to find foods from their hometown,” says Mertz. “I think it’s important to celebrate that.”