Tony Gemignani Opens Italian Specialty Shop In North Beach

Giovanni Italian Specialties
Giovanni Italian Specialties

Tony Gemignani is single-handedly bringing back the North Beach of another generation. The restauranteur and 12-time world pizza champion has opened his fourth location in the neighborhood, Giovanni Italian Specialties. “It’s time to bring back an Italian specialties shop like the old retail stores you’d find in North Beach in the 50s, 60s and 70s,” Gemignani told Haute Living. “I’ve been wanting to own a retail shop for years and years. My mom and I were always shopping when I was growing up, looking for little knick-knacks and I always wanted a place to call my own.”

Delicious fresh Italian food can be found at Tony's new shop.
Delicious fresh Italian food can be found at Tony’s new shop.

The selection of goods at Giovanni’s includes local and international products and home-cooked favorites. The deli will offer a rotating assortment of to-go food items like fresh sauces, pasta, sandwiches, and meatballs. On weekends there will be specials of panzerotti (a small handheld savory pastry similar to a calzone), focaccia, and piadina (Italian flatbread sandwiches).

Shop for dried pasta at Giovanni's
Shop for dried pasta at Giovanni’s

For last minute holiday gifts and events, Gemingnani says there are “customizable gift baskets and the charcuterie that we have are perfect if you’re hosting a party. We have a cold pasta salad that’s awesome, fresh mozzarella that you can make into a Caprese. Our Mediterranean olive mix is really hot. We also have a lot of imported cookies—Torrone, Swedish smoked pecans, some spiced chocolate almonds from a woman in the neighborhood. Our book selection and ornament selection are great. We also have a lot of olive oil and tomato ceramic dish wear.”

San Francisco-themed tea lights made by Katheryn Hedges of Splendid Colors
San Francisco-themed tea lights made by Katheryn Hedges of Splendid Colors

Gemignani hand-picked many of the goods which include linens from artisanal Venetian markets, locally produced ceramics, cookbooks by chefs who are his friends, and specialty pizza pans so cooks can enjoy Tony’s Pizza Napoletana‘s grandma, Detroit, and Sicilian-style pizzas at home. The imported handmade olive oil is Gemignani’s favorite item. “The containers are called Oliera or olive oil cruet and are handmade in Naples. If you are a pizza maker or someone into food it’s the best thing you can get,” he says. Other goods he loves? “Our wooden tartuffo shavers are also special, you don’t see too many made out of wood, so they are pricey but super cool. Giovanni’s has a lot of the little things you love as a chef or a home chef. Our gnocchi boards are nice as well. We also have special little wooden San Francisco tea lights, made for us by Katheryn Hedges at Splendid Colors. The ones we carry are selling out really quickly—they have cable cars, Coit Tower, and Washington Square Park on them.”

Gemignani isn't the first in his family to open a store. His Portuguese family owned a general store in the 1940s in San Jose.
Gemignani isn’t the first in his family to open a store. His Portuguese family owned a general store in the 1940s in Campbell, CA.

The retail shop and deli is named after Gemignani’s first and only son, Giovanni, who was born three years ago. It was at that time when Gemignani started visualizing his first store. “I don’t think you realize what it means to have a son until you have a son. Until you’re a dad you don’t know what it’s like. So it was amazing to be able to celebrate his birth and open up an idea with that concept.”

Gemignani checks on the drying pasta
Gemignani checks on the drying pasta

Giovanni’s also serves as a central location for Gemignani’s pasta-making facilities. Every day his team makes over 150 pounds of fresh pasta for his Bay Area restaurants and other local eateries, like China Live, which is around the corner. Being a prominent figure in the community is important to Gemignani. He hopes to bring a nostalgic style of service to a younger customer base. “Our approach is soulful, personable, and curated with old world style in a space with new world feel.”

Giovanni Italian Specialties is now open 12 to 7 p.m. daily at 629 Union Street.