Memories From An Iconic Old-World Gelateria

Jul 8, 2016

The next time you’re strolling the French Quarter, look for some ceramic tiling in front of 615 Ursuline Street. That tiling spells out ‘Angelo Brocato’, who New Orleanians know as the namesake of an old-world gelateria that used to be located there.

The business moved out of the neighborhood when it gentrified in the 70’s, but remains iconic to locals. So how’d it survive the transition? We turn to Arthur Brocato for that story and other family secrets. 

This feature was produced for WWNO with help from the Historic New Orleans Collection's Oral History Initiative. An excerpt from Arthur Brocato's interview with historian Mark Cave's examines Brocato's memories of the French Quarter:

Oh, there's so many memories of growing up in the Quarter. You knew everybody. You walked down the street and there wasn't a house that you didn't know the people who lived there and people were outside a lot.  There's no air condition.  People would sit on their stoop or their front porch and, especially in the early evening before the mosquitos came out because there was no mosquito control then -- and you'd walk along.  You're with your mother or something and they'd stop and talk and say -- you know.  So, you -- anyplace you went -- and you had everything in the Quarter that you needed.  You didn't.  We didn't have a car.  Ninety-five percent of our life we didn't own a car in the Quarter. 

You had the grocery store on every corner.  We had -- where we lived we had Matassa's on one corner, the the Tamperella grocery on another corner, you had Madonna's grocery, which is on Ursuline and Bourbon.  You had Lala's grocery, which was next door to the shop.  You had Puglia's, which was on Rampart Street and there was a big -- that was the big supermarket.  They had a whole meat counter with all kinds of -- all Italian butcher and they had all kind of meats and Italian sausage and produce and everything else and you even had the A&P on Royal Street, which is -- was -- is still Rouses.  It's still there now.  I remember going there as a kid and, then, groceries all down Dauphine Street. 

And it was a -- besides knowing everybody, everybody pretty much got along and it was a mixed neighborhood.  You had Black, you had Creole, you had French, you had Chinese, you had Jewish people, you had the Italians, you had Syrians.  You name it, we had it.  And everybody knew other another and everybody got along well with one another.  And it was very rarely you had any problems.  We'd walk the streets late at night.  We'd go with my dad. We'd close the shop -- the shops used to close 11 o'clock at night.  You didn't have the lights you have in the Quarter now. You had one street light every -- in the middle of the block and one on the corner here or there, but we'd walk and you'd meet people along the way at night, eleven o'clock at night, that you knew.  So, it was -- that was great because you knew if you had a problem you just had to knock on somebody's door.  And if you gave a problem, your mother knew it before you got home because somebody saw you and was going to call home and tell, "Your son, so and so and so," or, "your daughter" -- and so, it was just a great place to live and grow up with. 

I mean, you had barber shops and you had restaurants, not that people went out to eat like they do today, but you did have your restaurants when you wanted to go out.  You had Minty’s.  Minty's was a -- used to be on -- right behind WWL Studios on Burgundy and Ursuline and they were just like a little lunch place -- workman's place -- and they had po'boys and the best roast beef you ever could find -- roast beef po'boy.  And then they moved.  Later on, they moved on Rampart Street.  But you had anything you could name.  You had the street vendors.  That's something I really miss.  You had the wagons that would come by and they'd be hollering out, "I've got watermelon, bananas, strawberries.  I've got watermelon red to the rind."  I know -- and then, they had the man that would come -- and they knew the stops.  They knew if you bought from them, they'd stop and ring their bell or whatever they call it.  And you could hear from inside because nothing was closed.  It's not like you had the air condition running. The windows were open.  

And then, you had the -- the man used to pass with the rag -- the rag man.  He had the collar bell like ringing on -- people had old rags and stuff that they would -- old clothing and things that they would give you him and they would convert that to something.  I don't know what.  It was like -- it was the first recycling. And you had, of course, the Roman Candy man was around.  That was a treat when he came around.  And the waffle. I vaguely remember, but my brothers remember them well when they'd come with the hot waffles and the powdered sugar on the street.  But you had your street vendors.  You had the French Market.  The French Market was a living market that you went there in the early morning hours or late in the evening and late at night.  The farmers form different parts of the area would come.  They'd have -- their trucks were loaded, I mean loaded, with whatever as in season.  It might have been cabbages.  It might have been cauliflower or broccoli or watermelons or beans or something.  It was just -- you could go there and buy directly from the farmer.  The little grocery corner stores would go there in early morning and they'd buy their produce from the farmers to take back to their stores. 

So, it was -- things were on a smaller basis, but it was very person.