Places V Like: Regina's Grocery
Photography: Raina Bell
Text: Brooke Kushwaha
Roman Grandinetti has worked with just about every name in music and fashion, from Travis Scott to Alexander Wang. His experience at the marketing agency Cnnctd has brought him to all corners of the cultural world, but he still felt one frontier he needed to conquer: food. Thus, Regina's Grocery was born, a deli co-owned between Roman and his mother Regina, meant to sit on the nexus of art, community, and culture. The grocery and delicatessen entertains both a highbrow, global crowd (the deli frequently collaborates with his famous clientele) and the local interests of the Lower East Side here on Orchard Street. The grocery is famous for its high-quality meats, locally sourced breads, and its authentic Calabrian chile paste courtesy of Regina herself. Regina's Grocery sits just a few blocks away from V's Rivington office, and we got the chance to talk to Roman about the inspiration behind opening a mom-and-pop shop in the heart of New York City's burgeoning creative neighborhood.
How did Regina's Grocery first come into fruition?
I grew up in Brooklyn which a lot of these social clubs and deli-esque environments were always around. When they started to disappear, I had an extreme interest in them and an extreme interest in food. I own a marketing agency which is what pretty much funds all this stuff called Cnnctd. We did marketing for everyone from Travis Scott, Bob Dylan, Alexander Wang I’ve worked with everyone, everyone in fashion. I had an office—the office was essentially a social club. My rent skyrocketed in my four-year five-year lease and I had this idea to bring an office to street level but I also really wanted to do food so I had mixed emotions. I found this place on Orchard St which i feel like is the last neighborhood that feels like a neighborhood in New York. We came up with a concept to do like a social club meets my mother’s kitchen. That would be Regina’s, and since it was my first self-owned food location we went with a deli because that was the lowest risk.
So what got you into food in the first place?
I’ve always been into food. My first job when I was 13 was in a kitchen. It’s something that I always wanted to do; I just didn’t have the ability to go to culinary school. That was a grey area, you couldn’t really get financial aid for it. And so marketing was, I went to art school so marketing was in my DNA it felt natural. I loved food I was obsessed with street carts growing up and understanding small businesses and how they became bgi businesses. I always thought food was a way to communicate it was an easy entrance point. Hospitality was always an interest of mine so I thought really, what’s the smallest, most creative thing we could build that would have a backbone behind that was able to build a brand. Growing up in an Italian neighborhood, every small space had such a big impact on a small community. It just felt authentic to me. The social club thing worked because my clients were still able to come in; it all worked with hospitality. So now the experience was more than just sitting in a white-box office.
You mentioned Orchard St as being in one of the last real neighborhoods in New York. Could you elaborate on that?
The city overall, it’s expanding so much that theres so much less ground that isn’t touched. For something like this business, you need to go to a neighborhood that’s still developing, still had room to grow, and also needed what you were offering. I moved down to the neighborhood eight or nine years ago, and it was missing an Italian family shop, it was missing grocery stores, but the rent was super affordable, the spaces were big enough that artists were coming in to do creative stuff, it was more of an untouched market. Still, it’s developing: a hotel just opened up on the corner, Scarr’s is right across from us and it's become the neighborhood’s local pizzeria. It just feels homey. What neighborhood I grow up in, I just thought things grew into something bigger than what they were. Soho had, you know I had been coming to Soho since I was 12-13 years old and it always felt grand but it just became extremely commercialized and almost safe. Years ago, there were things still experimental in Soho, people willing to take risks. I think it just got...things grew to a certain point where creativity couldn’t afford the square footage and you have to move on to a different area. Chinatown right now kind of has that heartbeat but it’s only three blocks from Soho, three blocks from the Bowery which has changed 100% percent. There’s only about 20-30 blocks that have that feeling now, downtown.
And how have those creatives responded to the deli? How have they made it their own?
The thing about the deli, it’s built very resemblant of your mother’s kitchen. My mother has been a part of not only my life but all of my friends’ lives since I was 12 years old. A lot of people ask, ‘How do you work with your mother?’ ‘How do you work with your family?’ No, my mother has seen it all. We were a bunch of knuckleheads when we were younger, my mom was very understanding. She’s a real Brooklynite, from Bed-Stuy. She’s been in it. She understands it. And my father is one of us. I never felt to hide anything from them. It feels like you’re walking into your house.
For the creatives, it feels like they’re walking into their family. I would say 60% of these people are not from the area and my mother has become their second mother. Aside from that, because of my background, the place has become a backbone. I’ve done a collaboration with Curtis Coulis (sp?), I’ve done a collaboration with Jordan, I’ve done numerous collaborations with local artists. They all have their two cents with the store, they’ll do a collaboration sandwich. A$AP Ferg just cooked his favorite meals in the store with my mother, whatever-it-was for $10, so what he made when he’s not in the best financial state of his life, what he makes when he’s on tour and he has 5 minutes to cook. We’ve communicated with the community and with culture the whole time we’ve existed. It’s been super cool. It feels authentic. We’re a little bit more than just a sandwich shop, but I think that’s what everything is now.