Catonsville Patch: How long have you been in business in Catonsville?
Josie Schroeter: My parents, Frank and Tina Scittino bought the business in 1973. Before that, it was Sorrento’s Grocery and Meats. My father had his own butcher shop in Sicily before he emigrated. It had always been his dream to own his own business again.
Patch: How did he happen to buy Sorrento’s?
Schroeter: We lived in Ten Hills, and Dad used to come down here and get Italian lunch meat every Sunday. One day, the shop was closed and there was a sign in the window. Dad came back home and got me because he couldn’t read English, and I read the sign and it said that the owner, Frank Esposito, had been killed in a car accident on the beltway. It was a tragedy, but it allowed my father to buy the business.
Patch: How has the business changed over time?
Schroeter: At first it was just my dad and me. He needed me from the beginning to help with the English. Dad didn’t take a salary right away, but he paid me. Mom kept her job. It was scary to start again at his age; he was in his late 50s. But slowly, we were all able to come on, little by little. All six of us: Dad and Mom, Lennie, me, Sal, and Frank.
Now it’s just me and Sal left here. Some have passed on and some have moved away. But we’re still basically doing what we’ve always done.
Patch: How do you and Sal divide the labor?
Schroeter: Sal runs the deli and I run the kitchen and do most of the office work. I do most of the cooking. I follow my mom’s recipes. I make everything authentic Italian, the same as I do at home, but in larger quantities.
Patch: What do you like about being in Catonsville?
Schroeter: I love everything about Catonsville. It is a small, family-oriented community. Everybody knows everybody, everybody helps each other. I’ve been here most of my life, ever since we moved here from Sicily in 1958.
Patch: What services do you do?
Schroeter: We have a full deli, a full kitchen, carry out and delivery, catering and specialty grocery store.
Patch: Do you have a signature service or specialty thing you do?
Schroeter: Years ago we brought in a butcher named Al Shilinski, and he made authentic Lithuanian sausage. So we sold them as well as our Italian sausage. Then people started asking for other kinds of sausage and we said, “If you bring us the recipe, we’ll make it for you.” That’s how we got started with Irish bangers, German bratwurst. Right now we do . . . how many, Jeff? How many different kinds of home-made sausage?
Jeff Ziegler [from behind the deli counter]: Nine.
Schroeter: And we sell a good variety of imported olive oils and Italian cheeses. Pizza is a big thing. We’ve won awards for our pizza.
Patch: What’s one of the hardest things about your work?
Schroeter: There is more we would like to do, like we could make our own fresh mozzarella, but we don’t have the space.
It’s also hard to find people who want to do this kind of work.
Patch: What are you proud of?
Schroeter: So many little places like this don’t exist anymore, but we’ve been able to keep going because the people in Catonsville have been coming for generations.
Patch: What’s your favorite thing about your work?
Schroeter: Connecting with people. I like knowing so many people who come in; I feel like they’re coming into my home. I like when people come in and they say, “How’s your mother doing?” Or people who have moved away stop back in and they say, “Come out from behind that counter, I want to give you a hug.”
Patch: What is one thing you think is needed in the business community?
Schroeter: I’m sorry that the hardware store is gone. I used to go in there all the time and all I had to do was show Mr. Muir what I needed and he would get it for me. Now when I go to the hardware store, I can’t find anything.
Patch: What's the best piece of advice that someone has given you when it comes to running a business?
Schroeter: Oh gosh, I bring my Dad to mind all the time. Whenever I come up against an obstacle, I say, “Dad, what would you do?” He wasn’t an educated man, but he had a lot of business smarts.