Eat, Drink, ITALIA!
Local foodie, Emily Chandler, shares her journey from art major to imported cuisine aficionado
Text and photos by Maire McArdle
Piazza’s owner Emily Chandler can help you throw together a party pack or a picnic basket with fresh bread, sliced salami, prosciutto, cheeses, olives, cookies, chocolates and of course wine!
Maybe it was her family trips to Tuscany? Or grocery shopping with her mom at the “gourmet” Giant Foods? Or watching Julia Child and Jacques Pepin on PBS? With so many food-related influences throughout Emily Chandler’s childhood, it’s no surprise that her original career path veered off track.
As a teen growing up in Northern Virginia, which is known for its ethnic restaurants and markets, Chandler would hop on the Metro or try out her newly minted driver’s license to check out all the independent grocery stores. The diversity of so many cuisines — Vietnamese, Indian, Russian, Lebanese, Asian, and of course, her family’s favorite, The Italian Store on Lee Highway in Arlington — had impacting influence on this young foodie.
“I loved to read the food section of the Washington Post and would find recipes, shop for the ingredients and then make dinner for our family. I remember pouring over the Zagat guide in my free time. I was fascinated by Slow Magazine (published by the Slow Food Editore in Italy) and loved the articles outlining anthropological analyses of food and its production or history.”
After high school, Chandler headed for Wesleyan University, in Connecticut, to major in studio art. She recounts, “During my first week of college, I read an article about David Karp in the New Yorker’s annual “Food Issue” in which he was described as “the Fruit Detective.” I credit his off-the-wall travel writing about food as a major influence on me resulting in a string of obscure food jobs.”
Chandler’s early resume includes catering events for the President’s House at Wesleyan, making goat cheese in upstate New York, making and packaging tofu and working in the campus grocery store. “My favorite artist was Andy Warhol. Maybe it was all those soup cans that got me interested in food production?” she laughs.
Her junior-year study abroad program in Rome was intended to be an art-filled semester. Instead, Chandler recounts, “I mapped the city by cafés, gelaterias, and specialty food shops and found that my favorite, La Tradizione, was just a few blocks from my apartment. They have the best of everything. I still go there every time I return to Rome. I feel like all my trips to Italy are like the Stanley Tucci show! We go to a different area, meet local food experts and eat delicious foods in a beautiful place! I love how connected Italians are to their food. They spend all day talking about it, cooking it, eating it, cultivating it; it is a lifestyle I admire,” Chandler muses.
When she graduated from college, Chandler found an unpaid internship at the Slow Food USA office in Brooklyn and at the same time, she worked at the Bedford Cheese Shop to pay the bills and she loved it.
“I liked how fast and fun it was to work with food and customers. I liked the connoisseurship and the community. I felt like I had zeroed in on what type of job I liked the most — specialty retail — and I soon knew I wanted to have my own store.
Ready to make a career plan, Chandler consulted with her parents. Their guidance lead their daughter to move to the Eastern Shore and open an Italian food store. The combination of her strong, personal affinity for the cuisine, her quirky career path, and a readiness to settle in an art-centric town made the decision to open Piazza a dream within reach.
Twelve years later, this savvy, hard working shop owner feels that her store’s wide selection of imported foods has evolved along with her customers. “They ask me to find something for them, we bring it in, other people like it, now it’s a staple. Like mayonnaise from France or a cheese from Wisconsin,” Chandler remarks.
To curate Piazza’s wine selection, Chandler refers to Gambero Rosso, an Italian wine guide, and cross-references supplier’s lists to find the best wines. “I had so many post-it notes stuck on the pages!” she quips. “I want to sell both new and old favorites but availability changes and so do customer’s tastes.” Lately she looks for recommendations from wine writer, Ian D’Agata, and from Slow Wine, Slow Food’s guide to wine. “I also get to taste wines with sales representatives and that’s really the best way to learn.”
When Piazza closes at 6 p.m. each evening, Chandler loves to have lazy pasta dinners, like aglio, olio e alici (garlic oil and anchovies) with her husband Hiram Navarrete, whom she met in college, and she makes meatballs for their daughter, Lidia, who is six. Reflecting about the past decade, she offers, “I was 24 and I am not “from here” so I was missing a lot of socialization. All my friends were still in the City. At the same time I did recognize that I had a unique opportunity and was lucky to have my own business. I have found a balance and I really enjoy living in Easton.”
What would she tell someone 24 years old now? “My advice to a young entrepreneur would be to listen to your customers. You plant the seed, they make it grow.”
Piazza Italian Market
218 N. Washington St.
Mon.-Fri. 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Saturday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Sunday 10 a.m.-4 p.m.