“Kindness is important in this business.”
Full disclosure. i’m a big fan of Roma imports.
I don’t visit the little store often, but when I do, I come out with boxes and bags of enough food to keep my freezer stocked for months.
The thing is, I’m not alone when it comes to shopping in Roma. Almost everyone I know does the same.
During the Pandemic, Roma found the perfect pivot by implementing a telephone ordering system. You called, you ordered and a few hours later you picked up the order which was delivered to your car. This is still available, but I recommend an in-person visit; so much the better to get an idea of this gem.
Located on South Vine, just around the corner or two from the Padre Kino statue on South Kino Parkway and East 15th Street, Roma Imports offers a world of food, although perhaps it’s best to say mundane food world. And while the majority of offerings are Italian, you can also find a variety of quiches, chicken paprikash, bratwurst and more.
On one of my recent visits, a man commented as he checked out with a pile of food, “How did I never know this place was here?” Maybe it’s because Roma is off the beaten track. Still, the brightly colored building decked out in the colors of the Italian flag is a must-see among its industrial neighbors.
The small car park in front of the whitewashed building fills up quite quickly at certain times of the day, luckily there is plenty of street parking.
There’s really only one room here, but the back section, affectionately named “La Taverna”, is made up of tables with red checkered tablecloths. At lunchtime, they quickly fill up with people who enjoy the many sandwiches and the like on the restaurant menu. The staff are happy that the restaurant part has reopened as they missed the lively chatter and activity during the pandemic shutdown.
The space may seem cluttered with all the fridges, shelves, tables and display cases, but thanks to the high ceilings and bright lighting, Roma is cheerful and welcoming.
In its original version, Roma Imports was strictly a wholesale operation. But in 1999, Lilian Spieth who had a touch of empty nest syndrome bought the company.
“I had never run a business before. I had never even seen the inside of a commercial kitchen,” she said in a recent interview, but added, “I’ve always had a passion for food. I knew if I did anything it would have to do with food. It came naturally to me. »
Spieth’s passion meant adding more refrigeration and counter space. “We kept pushing the wall, pushing the wall,” she said, adding a more worldly menu.
“International cuisine comes from my personal experience,” Spieth said.
This personal experience began in Calcutta where she was born and lived until the age of fourteen. Her parents moved to Israel. Later in her travels, she met her husband, a mineralogist, in England. Then, through his work, they lived in England, Turkey, Denmark, Germany and parts of the western United States, finally ending up here in Tucson. Each stop along the way added to Spieth’s culinary skills. This mundane mix is evident in every inch of Roma.
The first thing you’ll notice are the large racks to your left. Here, the home cook, looking to make meals from scratch, will find a full bank of high-quality imported produce.
Take a cart. You are going to need it.
The choices of beautifully packaged options are vast: glittering bottles of a dozen types of olive oil, vinegar, and salad dressings; cans of imported tuna, sardines and anchovies; jars of bright red peppers; cans of real plum tomatoes; tubes of mustard and tomato puree; cannellini beans, chickpeas and canned lupini beans; canned roasted chestnuts and all kinds of foods not found anywhere else in Tucson.
And then there is the pasta. Pasta imported from Italy includes everything from small orzo to thick ribbons of tagliatelle to big tubular rigatoni and everything in between. If you can’t find the pasta you’re looking for, check the shelves at the back of the store where you can find more. Several gluten-free pastas are available.
These days, having a cart full of food isn’t unusual, but the dry goods section is just the start.
A long row of gleaming fridge/freezers line the wall to the restaurant. Their glass fronts make it possible to see the myriad of foods inside. You will find everything from appetizers to desserts.
The cheese list is too long to mention, but each day options include chunks of fawn parmesan (grated is also available), creamy ricotta (two kinds), homemade mozzarella, and Spanish manchego. Packets of world sausages are stacked. A variety of olives can be found alongside jars of Roma’s homemade spaghetti sauces – marinara, bolognese and vodka to name a few.
The prepared dinners are like a UN of offerings. Lasagna, stuffed pasta, chicken cacciatore and eggplant parmesan are just a small part of Italian dinners. Not feeling Italian tonight? So maybe coq au vin tickles your fancy? Or shepherd’s pie? Cabbage rolls? Did he sing? Thai chicken curry? You had the idea. And if you fancy a pizza, you can choose one of the many prepared pies or make your own using Roma dough and any of the previously mentioned sauces.
Most of them are frozen and must be thawed, but fresh products are also available. New dishes are also often added.
“We test (i.e. taste) everything until we’re satisfied,” Spieth said.
Remi ChatterjeeFront of the House Manager, who has worked at Roma for eight years, said: “That’s the fun part.”
On the other side of the refrigerator aisle are three cases of deli meats reminiscent of those found in Eastern delicatessens. We have a variety of bread. Another contains a wild assortment of bites, perfect for putting together an antipasto platter for your next party or for an eclectic light lunch: dolmas, peppadews stuffed with goat cheese, a Caprese salad, roasted peppers, zucchini and patties eggplants are some of them. examples.
The third case is the winner. It contains large rolls of salami, prosciutto, bologna, pancetta, pastrami, and more, all waiting to be expertly sliced to your specifications. As you wait, peek through the door to see the kitchen crew hard at work. It’s a kitchen from scratch, so they’re always busy with something.
Desserts are plentiful in Roma, from imported cookies and candies to rich cakes and lush cannoli.
Catering is also a big part of Roma’s success.
A word or two about Roma’s customer service: punctual, efficient and above all, full of smiles. The team here really love what they do.
The team of ten people is versatile so that the back of the house helps the front of the house and vice versa. Chatterjee adds: “We all like to learn, to broaden our horizons. We all love to cook.
The payment system is so outstanding that even if you have purchased tons of items, the team system does it quickly and correctly. They pay attention to everyone in line, interacting with customers while they wait.
Despite the fact that the options here are many and varied, sometimes people do not find articles. Chatterjee encourages people to ask. She will take their name and phone number and call when the item arrives.
You don’t find that kind of service and attention to detail in many places these days, but it has a lot to do with Lilian Spieth.
“For me, what’s important is that people know that when they come here we take care of them,” Spieth said. “Food is what we do, but the atmosphere is as important to us as the food. We take care of them. Kindness is important in this business. We train all our employees to listen. It’s also important than the food we sell. If we didn’t have that, this place isn’t worth visiting.
I guess Spieth just revealed the secret to Roma Imports’ success and the whole time I thought it was the marinara sauce.
Roma Imports is located at 627 S. Vine Ave. For more information and hours of operation, call (520) 790-3173 or visit romaimports.com.