Sweet New York, even sweeter with a touch of Sicilian vibes! If you are in the Big Apple, don’t taste only muffins and pancakes, on the contrary, discover the delicacies of Unico. In the heart of SoHo, very close to Little Italy, this 100% made in Sicily bar will greet you with cannoli, ice-cream, cappuccino, pizzas and more. Sicilian Secrets met Giovanni Patti, the founder of this place.
Bringing Sicily to the heart of New York is mission impossible? Not for the founders of Unico. Far from the stereotypes of Little Italy, this Italian style bar, is a meeting point for Italians on holiday in the United States but also for Americans that can’t say no to real handmade Sicilian food. Giovanni Patti, who was born in New York but is totally Sicilian, told us how everything began.
Q: How did the idea to bring Sicily and its products to the United States come about?
A: I was born in New York because my parents emigrated here in 1969. Nevertheless, when I was 11, I moved back to Sicily. In 2003, with other guys from my town that like me were engaged in politics, we decided to create a team and ask for European funding for a very specific project: our goal was to enhance Sicilian products and sell them abroad. We wanted to use our resources, create jobs and, of course, spread the excellences of our region such as olive oil, sheep’s milk ricotta, arancine (rice balls), but above all panelle (fritters made from chickpea flour) from Palermo. In 7-8 years, we created an artisan factory where our workers have the chance to use ancient recipes.
Q: When did you first think about opening Unico in New York?
A: From 2011 we took part in many trade exhibitions, first in Washington and then in New York at Summer Fancy Food. During one of these exhibitions I had the pleasure to meet Mr. Biagio Colucci, who has been living in the United States for 30 years and used to import Caffè Costadoro. Then his niece Federica Cipolla arrived, nowadays she’s one of the investors at Unico. Some collaborations developed, and I told him about my idea. In other words, this put in motion the notion of having a window in New York to sell our products not only to restaurants but directly to customers too.
Q: How did you get to the point of opening this place?
A: Together with Colucci and his niece Federica, we decided to invest both economically and, in my case, with personal products. The sheep’s milk ricotta is our diamond. In 2016 we chose the place and on January, 1st 2017 opened Unico. We wanted to build a Sicilian bar with a deli, sandwiches, patisserie, ice-cream, espresso…a coffee shop all made in Sicily.
Q: In addition to ricotta for cannoli, what’s your product that you would call…unique?
A: Ice-cream, for sure! We bought a specific machine and decided to import everything from Sicily, both the base and milk. With American milk the flavor would be completely different and definitely less creamy. Everything must be Italian!
Q: How did the fact that you’re Sicilian influence this project?
A: To have lived in Sicily was essential. I grew up with the mentality and values that made me the man I am today.
Q: Any plans for the future?
A: We have no limits, maybe one day we’ll open new points of sale…who knows! We want to avoid robotization. Americans see the difference between us and the other places in Little Italy. We want to go on without losing our authenticity and always keeping a family atmosphere that makes our customers feel like they’re at home.
Are you curious to learn more? Follow Unico on social networks and if you are around in New York during this cold winter, the warm welcome of Giovanni and Federica (and a delicious cappuccino!) will melt your heart.