Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor
Want to live to be 96 years old like Erma “Mama” D’Avolio, the namesake of D’Avolio Olive Oils, Vinegars and More in Western New York?
Dan Gagliardo, her grandson and owner of the regional chain, provided these secrets to here longevity:
“When it came to food, it was probably the most simplistic of recipes,” he said. “She didn’t have to add much to her stuff. And don’t eat too much, but eat enough.
“She had a glass of red wine every night – homemade, she made her own – and occaisonally she’d have a Courvoisier. There’s so much to say about that woman. She was a tough lady who had adversity her entire life. At 12 years old, she had to raise her brothers and sister. Her mother died and her father remarried and the stepmother went out to work. ... When I think about her, I can’t remember her ever complaining. Ever. She accepted things in stride and did the best she possibly could.”
The adversity included the death of her husband, Vincent, at age 58, the grandson said.
Gagliardo’s grandparents owned the Soup Bowl on Grove Avenue and DelFrado’s on Main Street, both in Niagara Falls. His grandmother, who died about seven years ago, later owned Mama D’Avolio’s on Pine Avenue in the Cataract City’s Little Italy district. She and Gagliardo also helped at two family businesses that remain open in the Falls area: Macri’s Italian Grille and Gagsters.
These days, Gagliardo, his wife, Stacy, and several other family members focus on D’Avolio shops in Buffalo, East Amherst, Ellicottville, Lewiston and Williamsville.
The family soon will add a sixth at 535 Main St., near the downtown Hyatt, which will boast a sit-down restaurant, as does the busiest location at 5409 Main St., Williamsville. He’s working on liquor licenses for both those shops.
Dan and Stacy Gagliardo moved from Lewiston to East Amherst last November, where Stacy grew up.
“I love it here,” Dan said during our interview in the Williamsville location. “I love all the hustle and bustle.”
He said he didn’t know what to expect when he opened the first D’Avolio store in 2010 in Lewiston.
“We’re completely humbled by everything that has happened to us,” he said. “Not many people can say you have your children working with you, your wife working with you. It’s a big deal.”
He has modeled his D’Avolio kitchen strategy after the former Trusello’s bakery in the Falls.
“They’d make a certain amount of bread and when they sold out, that was it,” Gagliardo said. “That’s the same concept here. I get here at 6 o’clock in the morning. I make the bread. I make a certain amount of pizza shells, a certain amount of rolls. When we run out, we run out. All of our vegetables are prepared that day. Chicken is prepared that day.
“The pièce de résistance is that people can go around and make their own salad dressings using all of our infused oils and vinegars and all of our seasonings. You choose what you want. If you’re calorie conscious and you’re looking out for nutrition, there’s always something on the menu.”
The Williamsville restaurant offers four items: pizza, sandwiches, antipasto and salad. Combinations are up to the customers, who can mix any variety of oils and vinegars in retail store that shares the same space.
There are about 10 calories in a tablespoon of any kind of D’Avolio vinegar and about 120 calories in a tablespoon of oil, Stacy Gagliardo said. She and her husband point out that their oils contain healthy fat.
The oils are all first pressed virgin olive oils and come from whatever country where olives happen to be in season in the Northern or Southern hemispheres.
“We’ll have Italy for a few months and it goes,” Stacy said. She named Portugal, Spain, Greece, Australia and California as other locales.
D’Avolio has roughly an equal number of oils and vinegars, she said, including new infused vinegars that include lavender, Alfoos mango and orange vanilla.
“We’ve picked some great product since the very beginning and people have fallen in love with it and stick with it,” she said, “so we wouldn’t dare to discontinue anything.”
What are some of the funkier combinations they’ve seen?
“Peach and jalapeno was one I found interesting,” Dan Gagliardo said. “Peach and Persian lime. Chocolate and blood orange. Then you’ve got your standards, like Basil and 18-year, which is really good. Garlic and pomegranate is another good one.
“And you can have a salad with just the vinegar, you don’t the oil. Normally, when you mix an oil and vinegar combination, you have to use more oil to cut the vinegar’s bitterness. With ours, it’s 50/50, because the vinegar is so sweet.
Dan convinced me to try my favorite vinegar flavor, fig, on some vanilla bean ice cream.
“I’m telling you right now, it will absolutely stun you how delicious it is,” he told me.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Which oils and vinegars does the couple use most at home?
“We have the cayenne, we have the green chili, we have garlic,” Dan said. “We have 18-year balsamic, pomegranate, we have Tuscan herb.”
You can find food recipes that go with those at the D’Avolio website.
What dish did his grandmother make that was Gagliardo’s favorite?
“Any one of her Italian dishes,” he said. “I loved her gnocchis. She made a zucchini supreme that was amazing and very healthy. We make a zucchini dish that looks like lasagna and there’s no noodles. We won the Taste of Buffalo Healthy Choice competition a few years back.
“For the family,” he added, “we get a big kick out of not having any fryers here in our kitchen. Everything is baked. Everything is mixed fresh, so there are quite a few things falling in suit with the trends today.”