Word about Canton’s “best-kept secret” starting to get out; locally owned market and deli brings unique taste of Italy right here to Stark County.

It’s not easy to sneak into DioGuardi’s Italian Market and Deli, 3116 Market Ave. N. in Canton.

Store associates pleasantly greet every person who walks through the front door.

It’s not just a standard hello as associates continue their daily work. The inspiration is to initiate a relationship to better understand each customer’s wants and needs.

“We care about our customers,” said Jeff Labowitz, who bought the market three years ago. “We want to help them find that key ingredient that might perfect their next recipe or take their favorite meal to a new level. A common greeting you hear around here is, ‘Hello, what are you making for dinner?’”

This care for the customer — and, of course, specializing in authentic Italian foods that are the “best you can get” locally — is precisely why this small Stark County business continues to thrive nearly 110 years after opening.

“We’re extremely proud to continue the DioGuardi family tradition,” Labowitz said.

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In 1906, Antonio DioGuardi immigrated from Greci, Italy. He opened DioGuardi’s Italian Foods in Canton on 10th Street with his brother, Biagio. The brothers brought their work ethic and family pride, as well as recipes passed down for generations.

Biagio’s wife, Angelina, also known as “Mama,” joined her husband in America in 1920. In 1948, the store was moved to its current location. Together, the couple ran the store, which specialized in Italian sausage and spaghetti sauce with meatballs.

Today, DioGuardi’s celebrates its long history with many of the same original recipes.

“Our spaghetti sauce is made fresh every day using Mama DioGuardi’s original recipe,” Labowitz said. “It’s slow simmered for four and a half hours. We use nothing but the best ingredients in our sausage and meatballs. Products we make right here in the market remain our best sellers.”

DioGuardi’s also carries ultra-premium pasta that’s handmade in Italy, cheeses and meats imported from Italy, and many other key ingredients for delicious homemade Italian meals.

“We tell our customers thinking of going out to a restaurant for a special occasion that they can buy all the ingredients needed for an even better homemade Italian dinner for less right here at our market,” Labowitz said.

DioGuardi’s meets customers’ changing needs by offering fully prepared meals, fresh Italian subs, take-out pizzas, a variety of party trays and catering. The market also sells gift baskets, holiday ornaments, China, beer, wine, soups, baked goods, candies, and much more.

“We’re extremely particular with our products,” said Labowitz. “We have limited shelf space, so only the finest products make it. If it’s not clean, fresh and done right, we won’t sell it. Our customers really appreciate that.”

DioGuardi’s competes with regional and national grocery store chains, a few local specialty stores, and even some Italian restaurants. Labowitz differentiates his store by offering specialty items you can’t get anywhere else.

A highly trained staff is a DioGuardi’s tradition. All seven associates have extensive knowledge about each of the market’s products and what makes them unique.

“Our team knows what soprasseta is, and why it’s different than the other salamis we offer,” Labowitz said. “We also know what makes a truly good balsamic vinegar. These are things most people at the chain stores simply don’t understand.”

DioGuardi’s supports strengthening Stark County. The market donates meals to Refuge of Hope and provides gift baskets to many local fundraising events.

“We sell several local products, including Dough Go’s, Ben Heggy’s Candies, The Mustard Man, Norcia Bakery, Pav’s Creamery, and more,” Labowitz said. “We even grow herbs in a raised-bed garden, which our customers can pick for free to use in their recipes.”

Labowitz said business has grown slowly but steadily since he bought the market.

“New customers come in every day,” he said. “As long as we keep our focus on community and quality, we expect that to continue. We’ve kind of been Stark County’s best-kept secret, but we’re starting to change that.”

Labowitz envisions a time when DioGuardi’s sauce and other products will be distributed outside of the store. He’s toying with the idea of installing a commercial kitchen and selling products on the Internet.

“We’ve got the room to expand, it’s simply a matter of timing,” he said.

When that time comes, even more people will get a taste of true Stark County success.