In an otherwise nondescript shop beneath the 7East Apartments in East Austin, Al Fini has created a tribute to his beloved home country of Italy.
Along two walls of his It’s Italian Market, wines rest three or four bottles deep on shelves that stretch nearly to the ceiling. A bar serving coffee, wine on tap and other beverages stands nearby, inviting visitors to stay awhile, and two tables made from large old barrels in front of the bar make the hanging out easy.
Visitors also will be lured by the food: Fini has cultivated a variety of Italian meats, cheeses, pastas and other delicacies such as mushrooms and truffles, importing them to his shop. Like the wine — It’s Italian carries more than 200 Italian wine labels — the food can be enjoyed on-site or taken home. Fini, a longtime local restaurateur, just hopes his customers leave happy.
“I wanted to open a place with all items brought in from Italy,” he said. “And I always wanted to do this thing that everyone does in Europe. In Italy, you take your jug, and you go to a winery and fill your jug. Finish it and come back.”
That’s not a common practice in the U.S., but he wanted to stay true to his vision. It’s Italian is permitted as a winery so that people can come in with a bottle or a jug — or purchase an It’s Italian-labeled bottle there — and get it filled with Sicilian wine (including a rosé during summertime) served from a tap. The key to its legality, Fini said, is that he has to seal it.
“We call ourselves a wine tasting room. You can come in and enjoy wines all day,” he said. “But in order to do that, we bottle and cork them on-premises and charge you $2 for the bottle and $10 for the wine. If you bring your bottle back, we’ll refill it and only charge you for the juice. That’s the unique thing we do here.”
It’s Italian also offers wine tasting events on Fridays that have become popular in the neighborhood, Fini said. For people who want a quicker browse through the wine offerings, which span all regions of Italy, the shop has an iPad app that allows searches by region, price and varietal, whether it’s a Barbera from Piedmont (where Fini is from) or a Brunello from Tuscany.
The rest of the store shelves are devoted to food: everything from San Marzano tomatoes from Napoli, white truffles from Alba or creamy cheeses from Piedmont made from cow, goat or sheep’s milk or a mixture of all three. Having this food is important to Fini, who didn’t just want a wine shop. “Food is my passion,” he said.
He wants to impart that same love onto his customers.
“I want this to feel like your home,” Fini said. “That’s why it’s built like a kitchen. It’s very warm and welcoming. It’s meant to be more like a house than a store.”
It’s Italian Market is at 2025 E. Seventh St. #115 and open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, 12 to 6 p.m. Sundays. For more information — or to order some of these wines and specialty foods online — visit itsitalianmarket.com.