Wednesday, August 31 2022 10:49

Brandywine Table: Like Mamie Used to Make

Written by Alyssa Thayer

A family-owned business shares the story behind their authentic Italian comfort food

In Italian families, food is love and love is family. And while pizza and pasta have become ubiquitous in this country, most of these foods pale in comparison to the real thing. Authentic Italian food is a symphony of fresh ingredients and practiced preparations. Taste, sight, feel and intuition serve as the instruments, all finely tuned by a long line of masterful matriarchs.

Mike and Theresa Vaccaro with the West Chester mayor at the opening of their location at 835 Lincoln Ave.

In the case of the Vaccaro family, owners and operators of Aunt Mamie’s Italian Specialties in West Chester, the woman behind the recipes and passion for cooking was Philomena Vaccaro, affectionately called “Mamie.”

Philomena’s family immigrated from Southern Italy to Pennsylvania when she was a child, but Italian food remained the central theme of their lives. After settling in, her family opened an Italian eatery called Vaccaro’s and would gather family, friends and neighbors each weekend for Sunday dinner (really at lunchtime).

Philomena Vaccaro with her family

“We always had a house full of people growing up, and it was always centered around the table, the food and eating,” remembers Philomena’s granddaughter, Denise Shatz. Denise’s father, Mike Vaccaro, spent a career in the Marines, but even as his family moved around, the thing that always helped build community and bring people together was their food. “Gatherings always included lasagna, meatballs or something that was an authentic meal from our Italian heritage,” Denise remembers.

After his retirement, Mike and his wife Theresa decided to open a small food business and name it after Mamie. Their original menu was simple — fresh pasta, gnocchi and marinara sauce — and they sold it all at local farmers markets. One of their favorite parts of selling at markets is interacting directly with customers. “Last week, a woman told me she bought ricotta gnocchi from us and mushrooms from another vendor and made something delicious. Those are the stories I love,” Denise says.

Theresa Vaccaro, Denise’s mother, selling at the farmers market

While Aunt Mamie’s continues to cater to their loyal foodie following, they’ve also expanded their line of prepared meals to accommodate those who are too busy or unable to cook from scratch.

All the culinary know-how at Aunt Mamie’s is “homegrown” and descends directly from Mamie, who spent hours in the kitchen teaching her daughter-in-law Theresa the recipes. And while the team has grown over time, they all have one thing in common: “Everyone who works here grew up in an Italian household, with the root of their families being native to Italy,” Denise says.

Nothing makes the Vaccaro family happier than being able to share those original recipes that have been cherished for so many years. It’s their way of welcoming us to the famiglia!

You can find Aunt Mamie’s fresh pasta and prepared Italian sauces and dishes at local farmers markets, or you can order directly from their website and pick them up from their kitchen in West Chester.

Read More

Our Favorite Resources