Vinnola's has been a part of the West 38th Avenue corridor connecting Denver and Wheat Ridge for more than forty years. Pergola's parents bought the market from the original owners, Michael and Lorene Vinnola, in 2001. "The records aren't very clear, but the best we can guess is that [Vinnola's] opened in 1973," Pergola says. "So it's now in its 45th year."
The bakery turns out fresh bread every day, plus biscotti, cannoli, cookies and pastries. And then there are those sausage rolls (also available stuffed with meatballs), wrapped in bread dough and baked until they're fat and golden; the big ones ring in at $6.50 each, but you can get a mini for only $2.25. Pergola notes that the Vinnola family had been sourcing sausage from Denver's own Paisano Sausage Company long before his parents bought the market, so it's a tradition he's happy to continue. He also makes dry sausage in-house by aging spicy Paisano links until they're the consistency of pepperoni; customers buy several pounds at a time for camping trips and other outdoor activities.
"I wouldn't call myself a foodie; we just do the good, old-fashioned home-style Italian food of north Denver," Pergola adds.
Before buying Vinnola's, Pergola was in sales, but he worked for his parents briefly when they took over the shop. The idea of one day owning his own business, especially an Italian food business, stuck with him, though, and when it became clear that his dad was getting ready to retire, he started working weekends at SliceWorks under owner Lou Scileppi to learn the restaurant side of the business. For five years, he worked weekdays as a salesmen and weekends as a pizzaiolo before taking over Vinnola's from his parents.
Pergola knows that old-school Italian cuisine is getting harder and harder to find in Denver, with so many places closing as the owners retire. One of his childhood favorites, Valente's, hasn't served a plate of spaghetti since 2008. "Growing up, I didn't even know there were any other Italian restaurants than Valente's," he recalls.
As a sign of changing times in Denver, the building that once held Valente's is now Colorado Plus Brew Pub and Taphouse, just a few blocks from Vinnola's. Pergola's other favorites, all still open, include Mama Sannino's, Pietra's and Tony Rigatoni's in Morrison.
Piles of dirt, the continuous beep-beep-beep of construction vehicles backing onto roadways from freshly scraped properties around Highland, Sunnyside and Wheat Ridge, and imposing monstrosities blocking views and diminishing the architectural appeal of Denver's northwest neighborhoods all contribute to the sense of loss and change. But Pergola is fighting that loss, one sandwich or pasta plate at a time, building layers of lasagna noodles, ricotta and homemade sauce to wall off the encroachment of the modern world.
"It's more than just the food," Pergola concludes. "It's the ability to preserve something I was looking to hold on to — that north Denver history and tradition."