Vaughan Road Renaissance

Back in 1989, when I started selling real estate in Hillcrest Village, Vaughan Road was stigmatized and it was an uphill battle convincing buyers to live close to Vaughan Road. Articles like this one in the Toronto Star explain the misconceptions affixed to this winding road sprouting popular streets like Rushton Road and Wychwood Avenue. The sketchy perception of Vaughan Road came to be only in modern times but is rapidly being lifted by delightful stores like Italy at Home.

Anna Sottile, owner of Italy at Home, reveals the true and hidden meaning of spirited Vaughan Road. Because my heritage and upbringing is similar to Anna's, blended with my love for Hillcrest Village, her story touched me deeply. Her tale can be one of yours, with your parents or grandparents moving from Grace Street to Forest Hill or Shaw Street to Woodbridge. This is Anna’s story:

The question I get asked most often is not “what made you start Italy at Home”’ but “what are you doing on Vaughan Road”? The answer is “I’ve always been here and I love it here”.

Sottile Bros Shopkeepers
Sottile Brothers: Shopkeepers

In the fall of 1965, my family opened a neighbourhood grocery store, Sottile Bros. Grocery, right here at 421 Vaughan Road and we lived in the apartment above the store with my uncle and his family – 8 people squished in a 900 square foot apartment. And still the memories were all good!

For 20 years, residents from across this neighbourhood would come through our store each and every week, filling their carts with groceries for their families and, at the end of the day, our orange delivery van (with an image of a little boy holding a gigantic mortadella) wound its way through the streets making door-to-door deliveries. As a child, I recall this store was always full of moms and kids and men talking animatedly about work, war and some guy named Mussolini.

Sottile Brothers GoodTimes
Sottile Brothers: Good Times

This was a bustling neighbourhood where everybody knew your name and where everything you needed was a short walk from home. Walkscore wasn’t even in our consciousness. The grocery store eventually closed but my childhood memories of life on Vaughan Road remain. My family still remembers all our customers, speaking of them often and fondly.

Italy at Home 3
Italy at Home

After spending some time working in Italy, I moved back in 2000 and refurbished the store front to create Italy at Home bringing the beauty, warmth and flavours of that enchanting, sun-drenched country to Toronto. What began as a business-to-business importing company has evolved into a go-to neighbourhood gift shop. Now and then, many of Sottile Grocery’s old customers still pop by Italy at Home and in some cases, their children and grandchildren shop here too.

Italy at Home 2
Italy at Home

Today, with so many people and families from many different backgrounds in the neighbourhood, there is always a reason to celebrate! From corporate gifting to birthdays, milestones to Christmas, Easter, Passover, Purim and other religious holidays, teacher gifts, weddings and new babies - we offer a selection of ready-made customized gifts, beautifully packaged making your special occasions memorable.

Italy at Home is a gourmet gift shop offering the very finest chocolates, cookies, cakes, handmade pastas, sauces, premium olive oils, balsamic vinegars and more from across Italy, wrapped into smart, elegant arrangements for corporate and personal gift-giving.

In 2010, NonnaCookies was born: a line of handmade Italian cookies that are baked on the premises and I hope and dream of opening a small café in the front of the shop someday soon.

Italy at Home 1
Italy at Home

My original plan was to start Italy at Home here and then move on to another location in the city. Although as time went by I realized how great it is to be in a neighbourhood where everybody knows your name and how great it is that everything I need is a short walk from home. I guess that’s why I still live in the neighbourhood and never left.

Come visit me at 421 Vaughan Road and let’s create a new generation of memories together.

In the meantime look us up on our website Italy at Home.

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14 Responses to Vaughan Road Renaissance

  1. Mary Botelho says:

    I make it a ritual to stop and see Anna every Saturday in the morning. Anna is wonderful and creative. All my clients and friends do so enjoy her “Nonna Cookies” and all the other delicious treats.

    Reply
    • Josie says:

      Wouldn’t be wonderful if more shops like Italy at Home opened on Vaughan Road? I think they would do very well.

      Reply
    • Anna Sottile says:

      Mary, our Saturday visits make my day!!!! I hope that you and Gord can get your businesses going in the neighbourhood too.

      Reply
  2. Sandi Ascenzi Naumann says:

    We grew up on Arlington Ave and every Thursday my mom would stop in at Sotille and do her big shop, with me tagging along. I remember the isles so tall and stocked with so much goodness. I remember Anna’s uncle writing on the packages of meat with his special butcher’s pencil and best of all I remember savoring the box of Smarties I was rewarded with every week and having to relentlessly share with my older siblings when I got home. I didn’t know Anna at the time, but since Italy At Home, she has become one of my best friends and considered part of our family. We share wonderful memories of family and friends in common. Today, I still shop at Italy at Home with my mom and now my children too! (and friends, coworkers…there’s something for everyone!) Anna has a great eye for quality and her packaging is impeccable. Thank you Italy at Home for keeping the memories alive!

    Reply
    • Josie says:

      Thank you all for sharing these wonderful experiences and memories.

      Reply
      • Anna Sottile says:

        Thanks for posting your memories, Sandi! If we had known each other back then, you would have had to share the Smarties with me too!!!! It’s so great to keep the friendships going in the neighbourhood.

        Reply
  3. Winston McKenzie says:

    Hey Anna,
    Did my comment get through? If not, please let me know so that I can try again.
    Cheers,
    Homey

    Reply
    • Anna Sottile says:

      Your comment didn’t come through. Can’t wait to read it 😉 You were in the neighborhood before I was, no?
      As always, H

      Reply
  4. Emy says:

    As I was sitting at my desk in Rome, going through my e-mails, the first one that I opened was the one sent by my sister Antonella (your affectionate customer and friend). It was regarding you! My heart skipped a beat as my memories took me back more 40 years when I saw the black and white picture you posted “painting a thousand words”. I remembered when I lived in Toronto and would regularly go to “Sottile” for my grandmother and mother ordering “mortadella”. Everything you could possibly want was gathered in that family store. I remember the gentle smiles and the elegant gestures. When visiting my family in Toronto and stop by your “boutique” to say hello the sense of a very fresh and refined atmosphere is different but what has NOT changed is the gentle smile and the elegant gesture, It is s still there! Funny how some things sometimes never change. It makes me smile to see the flavours and products you brought from Rome, which makes me feel at home! BRAVA for having maintained the beautiful memories. Un abbraccio Emy

    Reply
    • Anna Sottile says:

      Wow, a message all the way from Rome!

      Thank you for sharing your lovely memories, Emy. Big hug to you. My mom and aunt ask about you often, They’ll be thrilled to hear about your message. Four generations of your family have come through the door at 421, starting with your grandmother who was such a gracious presence on Winnett. We’ve been so blessed with your friendship all these years. So many of the sweets we still make at home are your grandmother’s recipes. My mom and aunt were young girls when they came to Canada and they always talk of how much they learned about cooking and baking from your grandmother.

      Hope to see you soon! I miss the Eternal City so!

      Reply
  5. Carolyn Neblett says:

    Great Article! Brings back memories.
    I love when I stop by the store and see people from the old neighbourhood. Best community ever!
    Anna you have brought the beauty back to the community. Keep up the good work as we keep supporting you. Buy Buy Buy!

    your friend of ++ yrs,
    Carolyn

    Reply
    • Anna Sottile says:

      Carolina, you may be the first Bajan to be made an honorary Italian in history!

      And isn’t it funny that no matter how far away you go or how long ago you moved, this will always be your neighbourhood. Hope you’ll make your way back to this part of town some day, seems everybody wants back in!

      Thanks for all the cheerleading, and the ++ years’ friendship. And especially for the discreet ‘++’ 😉

      Reply
  6. Winston McKenzie says:

    Dear, Dear Anna,
    I am happy to read the wonderful sentiments expressed by friends and customers. I visited Italy last year after having enjoyed your friendship and beautifully packaged, quality ‘stuff’ (that’s stuff in the store) for the past years.
    I was blown away by the food, the music, the hospitality…you name it. Brought back memories of my first Italian friend in Toronto…Vincenzo Denino/1956/construction job/taught me Italian phrases which I have learned not to use in company. I am sure he was a customer at the Grocery in the old days.
    Keep up the excellent standards and accept best wishes from Angela, Ken and Mary.

    All the Best,
    Homey.

    Reply
  7. Anna Sottile says:

    Dearest Homey!
    You’re never far from my thoughts! Grazie infinite for the kind words – perfectly safe to use those Italian words in company :) I wonder if your friend Vincenzo is still in the neighbourhood. I always loved your stories of the ‘jazz’ days and Oakwood Avenue.

    Great to hear my ‘people’ treated you well! I hope you’ll make it back there sometime soon. I hope I will too!

    Big love to you and Angela and the fam. Keep well.
    Affectionately as ever,
    Hatchet

    Reply

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