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DeRusha Eats: Cossetta's Italian Empire

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- It is Little Italy in the heart of downtown St. Paul. Cossetta's is an institution.

"Italian sausage is what we're famous for," said Dave Cossetta, the fourth generation of Cossettas running their self-named Italian food emporium.

Dave's great-grandfather came to St. Paul from Calabria, Italy and opened a tiny grocery market in 1911.

"Keeping Italian tradition in St. Paul, it's a big deal," Cossetta said.

The tradition is more than that mind-blowingly-good sausage and peppers. It's become an empire: a more than $10 million expansion in 2013 created more than 1,000 seats inside with an eatery, sit-down restaurant Louis, a grocery market, catering operation and a world-class Pasticceria, an Italian bakery.

"Make one thing that makes you famous, and one thing that makes you money," Cossetta said.

The bakery is making Cossetta's famous around the country and around the world.

"Everything you see was constructed in Italy in Massa and Carrara," bakery manager Jo Jo Halling said. "It was taken apart and reassembled here to create an authentic feel for our customer."

Good luck finding a Cassata cake, Baba Savarin, or lobster tail anywhere else in the Upper Midwest, he said. But it's the cannoli that keeps them coming.

"I have not had a cannoli like Cossetta's can do a cannoli," Halling said.

That's because of freshness, according to Cossetta. The shells are freshly rolled each day beneath the restaurant, then fried, then filled with extremely fresh and authentic ingredients. Halling said the downstairs pastry kitchen fills at least half-a-million of them a year, with people working almost around the clock.

"We do about 300 baguettes a day to keep up with volume," executive chef Charlie Schwandt said. Every bun and loaf of bread is made by hand from experts in St. Paul. Schwandt said they go through 500 pounds of flour every day.

Up the street is the production kitchen, where all of the sauces are made, where the garlic bread is dipped in butter, recipes are developed by chefs in Italy, and executed by cooks who've also traveled there to learn.

"If you want to know what a traditional and authentic Italian food tastes and looks like, Italy is the place to go. And we've gone there," Schwandt said.

Take the dedication to authentic panettone, a sweet bread originally from Milan. Cossetta decided he wanted to sell an extremely authentic version of the holiday bread. There are only a couple spots in the U.S. that make it from a sourdough starter, filled with candied citron and ginger. He traveled with a team to Italy to learn how to make it.

"Our goal is to make it the way they make it there. Sometimes we have to go there to find out how they make it," he said.

It's the dedication to authenticity and obsession with quality that keeps generations coming back to Cossetta.

"Keep it simple, be consistent. Treat people nicely. It's simple," Cossetta said, but "it takes work."

Cossetta Alimentari
211 7th Street
West Saint Paul, MN 55102
(651) 222-3476

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