Visiting Roma Imports is like taking a trip around the world

“Kindness is important in this business.”

full disclosure. I’m a big fan of gypsy imports.

I don’t visit the convenience store often but when I do, I walk out of there with boxes and bags of enough food to keep my freezer well for several months.

The thing is, I’m not alone when it comes to shopping in Rome. Just everyone I know does the same thing.

Rome Imports (credit: Jackie Tran)

During the pandemic, Rome found the perfect hub by setting up a telephone ordering system. I called and ordered, and two hours later I had the order delivered to your car. This is still available, but I recommend a personal visit; All the better to get to know this gem.

Located on the South Vine, around the corner from the Padre Kino statue on South Kino Parkway and East 15th Street, Roma Imports offers a world of food, although it might be better to say The world of mundane eating. And while the majority of the offerings are Italian, you can also find a variety of quiches, chicken paprika, sausages, and much more.

On one of my recent visits, a man while checking out with a pile of food commented, “How did I not know this place was here?” Perhaps this is because Rome is off the beaten track. However, the brightly colored building decorated in the colors of the Italian flag is impossible to miss among its industrial neighbours.

Facade at Roma Imports (Credit: Jackie Tran)

Facade at Roma Imports (Credit: Jackie Tran)

The small car park in front of the whitewashed building fills up very quickly during certain hours of the day, luckily there is plenty of parking on the street.

There is actually only one room here, but the back section, affectionately called “La Taverna,” consists of tables with checkered red tablecloths. At lunchtime, they quickly fill up with people who enjoy the many sandwiches on the restaurant’s menu. Staff are happy that the restaurant section has reopened because they have missed out on the lively chatter and activity during the pandemic shutdown.

Rome Imports (credit: Jackie Tran)

Rome Imports (credit: Jackie Tran)

The space may seem cluttered with all the fridges, shelves, tables, and display cases, but thanks to high ceilings and bright lighting, Rome is cheerful and welcoming.

In its original version, Roma Imports was a wholesale operation. But in 1999, Lillian Spieth Who had a touch of empty nest syndrome bought the company.

“I have never run a company before. I have never seen inside a commercial kitchen,” she said in a recent interview, but added, “I have always had a passion for food. I knew if I did something it would have to do with food. It came naturally to me.”

Spieth’s passion meant adding more cooling and counter space. “We kept pushing the wall back, pushing the wall back,” she said, adding a more mundane menu.

Rome Imports (credit: Jackie Tran)

Rome Imports (credit: Jackie Tran)

“Universal food comes from my personal experience,” Speth said.

That personal experience began in Calcutta, where she was born and lived until she was 14. Her parents moved to Israel. Later in her travels, she met her husband, a mineralogist, in England. Then thanks to his job, they lived in England, Turkey, Denmark, Germany and parts of the western United States, and finally ended up here in Tucson. Each stop along the way added to Spieth’s culinary talents. This mundane combination is evident in every inch of Rome.

The first thing you’ll notice are the tall shelves on your left. Here the home cook, looking to make meals from scratch, will find a whole bank of high-quality imported goods.

Get a cart. You will need one.

Choices of beautifully packaged options are vast: sparkling bottles of over a dozen olive oil, vinegar, and salad dressings; cans of imported tuna, sardines and anchovies; Jars of light red pepper. cans of real italian tomatoes; Tubes of mustard and tomato paste. canned kidney beans, sour kidney beans, and kidney beans; Canned roasted chestnuts and all kinds of foods not found anywhere else in Tucson.

Rome Imports (credit: Jackie Tran)

Rome Imports (credit: Jackie Tran)

Then there is the pasta. Pasta imported from Italy includes everything from tiny orzo to thick ribbons of tagliatelle to large tube rigatoni and everything in between. If you can’t find the pasta you’re looking for, check the shelves at the back of the store where you can find more. Many gluten-free pastas are available.

Currently, it’s not unusual to have a full food cart but the dried goods department is only the beginning.

A long row of shiny fridges/freezers line the wall all the way to the restaurant area. Its glass facades allow countless foods to be seen inside. You’ll find everything from appetizers to desserts.

Rome Imports (credit: Jackie Tran)

Rome Imports (credit: Jackie Tran)

The cheese list is too long to mention, but on any given day, options include chunks of browned Parmesan cheese (grated also available), creamy ricotta cheese (two types), homemade mozzarella, and Spanish manchego. Earthly sausage packets piled high. An assortment of olives can be found next to tubs of homemade spaghetti sauces in Rome – marinara, bolognese, and vodka to name a few.

Dinner prepared like un-shows. Lasagna, stuffed pasta, chicken cator, and eggplant Parmesan are just a small part of an Italian dinner. Don’t you feel like an Italian tonight? Then maybe coq au vin tickles your fancy? Or shepherd’s pie? Cabbage rolls? sang paneer? Thai chicken curry? You found the idea. And if you’re craving pizza, you can choose one of several ready-made pies or make your own using Roma dough and one of those sauces mentioned earlier.

Rome Imports (credit: Jackie Tran)

Rome Imports (credit: Jackie Tran)

Most are frozen and need to be thawed, but fresh varieties are also available. New dishes are often added as well.

“We experience (in the sense of tasting) everything until we are satiated,” Speth said.

Remy ChatterjeeFront of the House Manager, who has worked in Rome for eight years, noted, “That’s the fun part.”

Across the aisle from the refrigerators, there are three deli boxes reminiscent of those found in the East takeaway. One has a variety of bread. Another has a wild assortment of noshes, and is perfect for rounding up an appetizer platter for your next party or for a light à la carte lunch: dolmas, peppades stuffed with goat cheese, caprese salad, roasted peppers, zucchini, and eggplant fritters are a few examples.

Stuffed peppers at Rome Imports (Credit: Laura Greenberg)

Stuffed peppers at Rome Imports (Credit: Laura Greenberg)

The third case is the winner. It has large rolls of salami, prosciutto, mortadella, pancetta, pastrami, and more, all waiting to be expertly sliced ​​to your specifications. While you wait, peek through the door of the kitchen staff quickly at work. This is a kitchen from scratch so they are always busy with something.

Desserts are plentiful in Rome from imported cookies and sweets to rich cakes and lush cannoli.

Rome Imports (credit: Jackie Tran)

Rome Imports (credit: Jackie Tran)

Catering is also a huge part of Rome’s success.

A word or two about customer service in Rome: timely and best of all, full of smiles. The team here really loves what they do.

The team of about ten people was cross-trained so that the back of the house could help the front of the house and vice versa. Chatterjee adds: “We all love to learn, and broaden our horizons. We all love to cook.”

The checkout system is so great that even if you buy a lot of items, the team system gets them done quickly and correctly. They pay attention to everyone in line, and interact with customers while they wait.

Rome Imports (credit: Jackie Tran)

Rome Imports (credit: Jackie Tran)

Despite the fact that the options here are plentiful and varied, sometimes people cannot find the items. Chatterjee encourages people to ask. You will take the name and phone number and call them when the item arrives.

You don’t find that kind of service and attention to detail in many places these days, but that has a lot to do with Lilian Spieth.

“For me, what’s important is that people know that when they come here we are taking care of them,” Speth said. “Food is what we do, but the atmosphere is as important to us as the food. We take care of them. Kindness is important in this business. We train all our employees to listen. This is just as important as the food we sell. If we didn’t have that place it’s not worth coming to.” “.

I think Spieth gave the secret to Roma Imports’ success and all this time I thought it was the marinara sauce.

Roma Imports is located at 627 S. Vine Ave. For more information and opening hours, call (520) 790-3173 or visit romaimports.com.

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