Seconds after stepping into R Italian Market, customers are hit with the scent of garlic, olive oil and fresh-baked bread.
The smell of fine Parmesan-Reggiano, spiced Edam cheese, and rich, oily prosciutto, pancetta and capicola hangs in the air.
In the past, when Johnson County residents were hankering for these and other authentic Italian products, they had to drive to the northside of Indianapolis to find their products, if they had them at all.
But with the opening of R Italian Market, area foodies and gourmands have a local outlet for Old World tastes. Started by Greenwood residents Lynn and Dave Rodgers, they hope to provide foodies and traditionalists with the simple ingredients that make Italian food so beloved.
“There’s really nothing like this. There are Asian and Hispanic markets, but there aren’t places that have this stuff,” Dave Rodgers said. “People come in here asking for things they can’t get, and we can get them for them.”
While living near Pittsburgh, the Rodgerses found themselves nearby specialty ethnic food stores of all kinds. The region boasted large German, Polish and Hungarian populations, as well as healthy Italian communities.
R Italian Market
Where: 954 N. State Road 135, Greenwood
Owners: Lynn and Dave Rodgers
What: A specialty market featuring authentic Italian foods, homemade dishes to go and freshly baked desserts.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday
They had no problem buying meats, cheeses and pastas shipped directly from Italy.
But when they moved to central Indiana in 1999, they found that authentic Italian ingredients were hard to come by.
Both Dave and Lynn Rodgers had experience in food service. Lynn Rodgers worked in sales, particularly dealing with Italian specialty products. Dave Rodgers worked for more than 30 years arranging food service for hospitals.
They had the background knowledge of importers and wholesalers where they could get the best Italian products. They could start their own market focused on filling the void.
“We couldn’t find anything like it in the area,” Dave Rodgers said. “I had gotten tired of the corporate world, so we decided we knew the industry and open up this store.”
Despite their love for the food, neither of the Rodgerses come from Italian food. But even if you’re not of the heritage doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the cuisine, Lynn Rodgers said.
The store has a simple feel, as the point was to let the food speak for itself, Lynn Rodgers said.
One of the few indulgences is a mural on the back wall, painted to look like an Italian street scene. Two figures, Dave and Lynn Rodgers, are kissing on a balcony. A young girl runs into her father’s arms below them.
Two old men — one who was made to look like Dave Rodgers’ father — are sitting on a bench.
“We remember what it was like out East, and we’ve been to similar markets in Chicago. We don’t want to mimic anyone, so we added our own touches,” Dave Rodgers said.
R Italian Market is divided into two distinct sections.
Along one wall, the Rodgerses have stocked the shelves with specialty products such as ladyfingers, jars of mild pepperoncinis and pickled garlic.
Imported pasta from Paesana, Delverde and DeLalla are stacked together with sauces and truffle olive oil shipped from Italy.
But the most popular items are in the market’s display cases. Meats such as the heat-cured pork sausage mortadella and pancetta — pork belly salt-cured and spiced — can be sliced fresh by Dave Rodgers himself.
Neither are common at most grocery stores due to the difficulty of storing and preparing it.
“You can find pancetta diced up, but otherwise it’s not around much. Mortadella is very delicate to handle, and it doesn’t last very long,” Dave Rodgers said.
One case holds Provel, called “pizza cheese” because of it’s use in St. Louis-style pizza. People will often come in and purchase entire blocks of it, due to its scarcity in the area, Dave Rodgers said.
Another has Bellavitano Merlot, a cheese similar to Parmesan that has been soaked in merlot wine, giving it a purplish rind and oaky taste.
More than 15 varieties of olives, including garlic-stuffed and Gorgonzola-stuffed versions, are featured daily in an olive bar.
The Rodgerses also cook up Italian dishes every day that can be purchased to go.
Meat lasagna, mushroom ravioli with spinach and tortellini salad are popular, but the veal-and-hamburger meatballs are the top seller.
“I make about 80 pounds per week,” Dave Rodgers said.
Dave Rodgers bakes fresh bread every day, purchasing the dough from New Jersey. Something about the chemical makeup of water on the Eastern seaboard makes for the authentic taste.
“Bread is really hard to make in this area because of the harder water,” he said.
Since opening in November 2012, the market has garnered a loyal customer base of East Coast transplants and local food lovers looking for authentic ingredients.
But building a business on specialty goods sometimes requires extraordinary efforts.
Just after Christmas, Dave Rodgers had to drive to Pennsylvania to pick up 78 cases of his customers’ favorite meats.
“We were completely out of meat, and my distributor couldn’t get it to me in time. That wasn’t going to work, so I made the drive out and back,” he said. “If someone’s asking for something, I do what I can to track it down.”
Know Your Italian Food
A sampling of authentic Italian foods:
a hard, dense cheese made of sheep or cow’s milk, produced solely on the Italian islands of Sardinia, Lazio and in the Tuscan province of Grosseto
a grated cheese used as a condiment in pastas, risottos, soups and other dishes
a pickled combination of carrots, onions, celery, zucchini and other vegetables, often used as a garnish in Italian beef sandwiches
a dry-cured ham sliced thin and uncooked
a large sausage made of ground, heat-cured pork, incorporating cubes of pork fat into the meat
a cold-cut made from dry-cured pork shoulder with a delicate flavor and tender texture
salt-cured bacon made from pork belly
a soft, fat pasta made from wheat flour and typically eaten as a first course
medium-spicy peppers that are a staple of Italian dishes
a light, meringue-like cookie flavored with almonds
Sicilian pastries made of a fried, tube-shaped shell around a cheesy, creamy filling