In 1985, Charlie Augello found himself facing yet another job-related move. Augello worked as a salesman for an engineering company. He and his family lived in the Atlanta suburbs, but now his employers wanted him to relocate to a new city. Again. He’d already moved nine times.
He decided he and his wife and kids had bounced around the country long enough.
“I didn’t want to relocate anymore,” he recalled recently. “Being Italian, family was always important.”
So he left the corporate world. In 1986, he and Anita, his wife, started a business of their own, the E. 48th Street Market in Dunwoody. They based their market on the little groceries in the Italian neighborhood near the United Nations building in New York where they’d both grown up. Charlie lived on 48th Street. Anita, he said, lived over on East 43rd. They met in grade school.
“Being from New York, first-generation Italians, food was always around us,” Charlie Augello said. “We were always looking for the food we grew up with. You’ve heard of ‘care packages’? I traveled a lot, so I always came home with ‘care packages.’ “
Growing up, Charlie Augello found work making deliveries and doing other jobs for owners of the neighborhood markets. He learned to bone a chicken working for the neighborhood butcher. He knew how a real Italian market operated. “When you worked as a delivery boy and there were no deliveries, you learned how to cut meat,” he said.
The Augellos decided to start their Dunwoody shop after they realized the north metro Atlanta suburbs lacked a real Italian market.
“We thought there was room for an Italian specialty store,” Charlie Augello said. “There were a lot of gourmet shops, but we didn’t want to be a gourmet shop. We wanted to be an Italian specialty shop.”
Gourmet shops, he said, pull in customers looking to make purchases for special occasions. He wanted a place where customers could drop by two or three times a week to pick up a hero sandwich or some pasta or a bit of the fresh mozzarella they made every day.
At their market in the Williamsburg at Dunwoody Shopping Center, the Augellos offer a variety of Italian products – wine, cheese, meats. They make their own bread. They sell olive oil by the pound, and it’s cheaper if you bring your own bottle. They make sandwiches using bread they bake themselves, Charlie Augello said. No sliced bread or pastrami on the menu, he said. Their top sellers: meatballs and cheese, sausage and peppers, chicken parmigiana, prosciutto with fresh mozzarella and a muffuletta.
“Saturday, we had a customer who was a Roman,” Charlie Augello said. “He said, ‘I’m impressed. It’s just like home.’ That’s a pretty good compliment.”
The place has changed a little through the years. The Augellos added wine sales after customers asked for the chance to buy a bottle to take home with a take-out dinner, he said. They added tables when customers asked for a place to eat their sandwiches without driving away. But an effort to run a second market in Underground Atlanta proved unsuccessful.
Now Charlie Augello, who’s 72 and has cut back to working about five days a week, describes his family’s market as “an Italian version of ‘Cheers.’” “When you come in, [we] ask your name,” he said. “By the time you leave, you should hear your name three or four times.”
Customers seem to take to it. John Bleacher of Dunwoody, looking over the market’s stock of Italian wines one recent morning, said he’s been shopping there for 17 years.
“It is a genuine, family-owned Italian experience,” Bleacher said. “It’s like going to visit friends, like you’re going to visit family.”
In a sense, you are. The Augellos’ kids just about grew up in the place, their dad said, and daughter, Andrea Augello, now runs it. Other Augello children still pitch in now and then, Charlie Augello said.
“I think the significant thing is we’re still a family and we’re still talking,” Charlie said. “In a family business, that’s an accomplishment.”