Original Sansone Foods Trucks in Brooklyn

The History of Italian Culture in Brooklyn

If you’ve walked through Sansone Market, you may have noticed signs reading “Born in Rome, Raised in Brooklyn.” This important message emphasizes the roots of Sansone Food Products. Members of the Sansone Foods family are proud of their Italian culture and Brooklyn roots. They credit these roots with what Sansone means today. Let’s take a look at how Italian culture and cuisine made its mark on Brooklyn:

Italian Immigration to America

ITalian immigration to America

Like many immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries, Italian immigrants came to America to build a life for their families in the spirit of the “American Dream.” Specifically, they were part of the “New Immigration” – a period from 1890 onward. Three million Italian immigrated to the States between 1900 and 1915. They were the largest nationality of the “new immigrants” with all regions of Italy represented.

With their numbers and work ethic, Italian Americans were a vital component of organized labor supply. While their cuisine would eventually become a New York staple, Italian Americans were the largest populations in the mining, textiles, and clothing manufacturing industries in the 1900s. Additionally, there was another influx of Italian immigration following World World II. Many Italians settled on the east coast creating cultural enclaves including Little Italy, Italian Harlem, and eventually Brooklyn. Brooklyn was seen as ideal because, with the GI Bill, Italian Americans could afford to buy homes as opposed to renting apartments. 

Marks of Italian Culture in Brooklyn

Some of the most well-known Italian neighborhoods in Brooklyn include:

  • Bensonhurst (known as Brooklyn’s Little Italy)
  • Bergen Beach
  • Carroll Gardens 
  • Cobble Hill
  • Dyker Heights
  • Mill Basin
  • Williamsburg

There were/are particular cultural characteristics found in most Italian neighborhoods including: 

Catholic Churches

CAtholic Churches

Many Italian neighborhoods were built around Catholic Churches. In the early days of immigration, the Church often assisted with education and general care. Moving into the 20th century, the Catholic Church remained a place of comfort and community for Italian Americans. A man told the New York Times about his church in Brooklyn: “This is not just about a church. It’s about a piece of the Italian-American heritage — a symbol of how we made a place of our own in this country.”

Heritage Feasts and Celebrations

Italian Feasts

Not long after Italian immigrants settled in New York, they began hosting celebratory feasts in their new neighborhoods. While Manhattan’s Little Italy celebrated the well-known Feast of San Gennaro, Italians in Brooklyn began hosting their own feast two decades earlier. The Giglio Feast, originated by Nolani Italian immigrants, has been held every July in Williamsburg since 1903. The centerpiece is a 72-foot tower carried through the streets by over 100 men. Over the course of the 12-day event, Williamsburg is transformed into a mini Italian villa. Revelers can enjoy live music, authentic Italian cuisine, games, and more. All activities lead up to July 16th, the feast day of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This celebration is just one example of early immigrants’ efforts to maintain Italian tradition while adjusting to new American culture. 

Italian Bakeries

Italian Bread

Local Italian bakeries were key epicenters of Italian neighborhoods in Brooklyn since early immigration. They were neighborhood institutions where Italian cuisine was celebrated on American soil. While many bakeries have closed in recent years, a number of iconic Brooklyn bakeries live on. Caputo’s Bake Shop in Cobble Hill, one of the oldest founded in 1904, celebrates five generations of bread-baking. They continue to use traditional methods brought over from Sicily at the turn-of-the-century. 

Italian Culture in Today’s Brooklyn

As with many New York neighborhoods, Italian neighbors have changed over the years. While some retain their Italian heritage, others have become gentrified areas of young wealth. Meanwhile, some areas became home to new ethnic groups as Italian Americans departed for Long Island, New Jersey, and elsewhere. However, the history of these Italian neighborhoods live on through festivals, parades, and the historical societies that continue to hold events year-round. 

Raised in Brooklyn

ITalian Culture raised in Brooklyn

Sansone Foods Products strives to honor the rich history of the borough in which it originated. The first Sansone Foods existed in Bushwick, Brooklyn in the 1940s. The legacy of the four founders – the Mastrantoni brothers – would continue for decades to become one of the leading Italian Food Distributors in the New York Metro area. With the opening of Sansone Market, a retail space open to the public in November 2019, the current owners keep the Brooklyn spirit alive.

Sansone Foods continues to provide restaurants and markets with the quality Italian products New Yorkers love and use to bring a true taste of Italy into their homes. Visit our website to find out more about the new Sansone Market!