Sal Schittino and his sister Josie Schittino Schroeter, co-owners of Scittino’s Italian Market Place, announced on their Facebook page that they will be handing over the reins to their second generation of Schittinos.
But don’t expect them to disappear completely from the popular market and carryout establishment on the corner of Edmondson Avenue and Dutton Avenue in Catonsville.
They were there, along with their dad, Frank, and mom, Tina, when it opened on Memorial Day weekend in 1973 and will not hesitate to help ease the transition after turning over the operation to Sal’s son, Lenny, and their nephew, Franco.
Franco is the son of Sal’s and Josie’s late brother Leonard, who died on July 4, 1986, at the age of 39.
“He passed away in the ’80s and thankfully my aunt and uncle swooped in and saved the day and were able to build it to what it is today,” said Franco, who worked at Scittino’s in high school and college.
The Facebook post message also said, “We will still be around to guide them both with every aspect of the business for as long as they need us.”
One thing they won’t need is a lot of changes, especially to the menu.
“We don’t want to touch the menu; we are not going to fix what is not broken,” Lenny said.
Josie, 68, knows what she plans on doing in retirement.
“Enjoying my grandchildren,” she said. "For a while, I’m not going to know what to do with myself. I’m going to pop in occasionally, helping out.”
Sal will make the transition to retirement slowly.
“I just turned 65, so I just probably won’t work as many hours as I did,” he said. “I’ll be hanging in at least another year.”
He admitted there were some struggles during the past 47 years.
“There were times where we weren’t doing that well and we looked at each other and said, ‘What are we going to do,’ and I didn’t know anything else, so we pulled together and made it work,” Sal said. “We tightened our belts and we got lucky, and we did a couple of changes here and there that really did well for us.”
Building expansion came over time, and the residents of Catonsville responded when the kitchen and carry out service area was added.
“We’ve had the kitchen for close to 30 years,” said Josie, noting they opened originally as only a small grocery store and deli.
“When we opened the sub shop, it was pretty much the basics, like cheesesteaks, Italian subs and pizzas, and we just made it bigger and bigger as we grew,” Sal added.
They also realized the bigger the pizza the better, so they added the 20-inch pie to the menu.
“The 20-inch pizza really helped a lot and just some other little things we tweaked here and there, and they seemed to all work and thank God, we are still going,” said Sal, noting they only carry choice or high choice beef.
“We have really expanded the deli as a whole, but our beef in general has seen a surge, so we want to do a little more promotion with that to make sure people know that we have fresh prime beef,” Franco said.
They also added a pastry case and four small tables.
“We put the tables in but I don’t think they would help much, but they helped a lot, more then I thought they would,” Sal said. “It just got better and better.”
The most difficult time was the mid-'80s when they lost their father 13 months before losing brother Leonard.
“They were kind of the backbone of everything,” Franco said.
“For like seven months, I didn’t even get a day off because we didn’t have anybody and we had to just pick it up and do what we had to do,” Sal said.
When the coronavirus pandemic forced restaurants to close on March 16, Scittino’s stayed open.
“We had the grocery, we weren’t considered a restaurant,” Sal said. “To be honest with you, since COVID started we’ve actually been busier because we can deliver groceries and we can deliver different things. We helped a lot of people out.”
Lenny and Franco will continue that tradition of helping local residents.
Lenny has been working at the business since 2016, after serving six years in the U.S. Navy, and Franco will continue to carry on his father’s legacy.
“I really wanted to come back and try to help this place continue to grow and expand and carry on,” Franco said. “It wasn’t until later in life, after I had accomplished goals in the business world, that I really realized that as far as passion and being willing to commit my time to something, I really felt like the time was right to bring that home.”
Franco and his wife, Eileen, have five kids — Emily, 17, Leo, 15, Mary, 13, Claire, 9, and Kate, 6 — and he admits that ordering food at Scittino’s for them is one of his toughest challenges.
“They can’t agree on anything,” he said. They can’t even agree on pizza."
Among the changes in the works are marketing some of the specialties.
“We are hoping to build some distribution networks to try to get some of our homemade sausages and sauces on the shelves,” said Franco, who also hopes to continue the catering business when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted. “As people start having parties again, we would try to capitalize on that.”