MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO)Cossetta Alimentari is a downtown St. Paul institution.

It’s three sprawling floors of Italian breads, cheeses, pastries, pizza and — of course — pasta!

But if you want to know the story of Cossetta, the writing is on the wall. Michael Cossetta opened his business more than 100 years ago, in 1911.

“Michael came over from Italy and started his shop around the Upper Levy neighborhood of St. Paul,” manager Ray Vanyo said. “He provided the staple ingredients for the Italian community.”

Cossetta’s has been in the family ever since, and is now in the hands of Dave Cossetta, who took over in the 70s.

“He really wanted to grow the business and bring the Cossetta name out to the rest of the cities,” Vanyo said. “So he started with a little hot dog cart, had it painted up, and he would load that up in a truck and take it around town to different parks or down by the court house and sell hot dogs and sausage sandwiches.”

That sausage? Forget about it! It became famous, and is still served in Cossetta today — which has expanded into an Italian market, pastry shop, fine-dining restaurant and cafeteria-style eatery.

“Typically when somebody comes into Cossetta’s, [the eatery] is where they start,” Vanyo said.

But the eatery is just part of the Cossetta package. The Italian market is really how Cossetta’s got its start.

“That’s what really brought people together. And where else would see your friends? It was at the market,” Vanyo said.

If you don’t want to eat in, you can get authentic Italian ingredients to make your own Italian masterpiece.

“It’s an exciting concept, making this St. Paul’s Little Italy where you can come in and get pastas, olive oils, cheeses, tomatoes — all of the things that you need to make the Italian meal possible,” he said.

And what makes them the best? Authenticity.

“From a personal standpoint, it creates a lot of credibility to what we do knowing that we use ingredients from Italy to help make the foods and create the experience,” Vanyo said.

And how many mouths do the folks at Cossetta’s feed in a day? Vanyo says they typically serve about 1,000 to 2,000 people.

Up on the third floor is the Cossetta family’s first full-service restaurant, called Louis Ristorante & Bar. And they are working on a fun Valentine’s Day menu.

Click here for more information on Cossetta’s Alimentari.

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