Food as love: Bringing the spirit of 'La Mamma' to life in Prague

Meet the duo behind La Dispensa Italiana, a women-owned shop and deli serving up Italian comfort food and community ties.

Julie O'Shea

Written by Julie O'Shea Published on 20.11.2023 17:11:00 (updated on 05.12.2023) Reading time: 4 minutes

While the Czech capital has seen its fair share of Italian shops and eateries pop onto the scene in recent years, primarily helmed by men, a growing community of remarkable women lies at the heart of Little Italy in Prague’s Vinohrady district.

The collective draws its vision from the idea of the quintessential La Mamma Italiana, the nurturing matriarch who rises to any occasion with strength, determination, and a killer lasagna.

Stefania Lenzotti is a member of this tribe. Overcoming challenges as a single mom, she pursued her dream of establishing a shop that encapsulates the essence of the quintessential Italian mother—helping, healing, and connecting through food—to a market where "La Mamma" has long been underrepresented.

Lenzotti, together with her partner, Carmela Cosimo, opened La Dispensa Italiana, a charming specialty food shop and deli a few steps from Jiřího z Poděbrad Square earlier this year. Over the last 12 months, the pair have watched their little business venture flourish, blossoming into one of Vinohrady’s biggest success stories. 

“Our goal wasn’t just to open our own shop. Our goal was to build a community with our customers through personal connections,” says Lenzotti. “We don’t just want people to come in, sell them something, and hurry them out. That’s not the Italian way.” 

If you come in looking for a good prosciutto, Lenzotti and Cosimo are going to make sure you end up leaving with one (or two) that will have your tastebuds doing somersaults. Making carbonara tonight? Pull up a chair, Lenzotti has a recipe. “They take notes,” Lenzotti says with a delighted laugh, “and then they send me photos of their finished carbonara dishes!” 

And don’t even get her started on olive oil. “It’s not just olive oil you are putting in your body,” she says, “It’s a culture. It’s a way of life.”  

Pinsa, made by the proprietors, is a daily staple at La Dispensa Italiana, as is freshly made bread and focaccia from a local Italian supplier. Cosimo prepares signature arancini rice balls off-site every week. Special orders include Lenzotti’s famous lasagna – “famous,” because she made it once on a whim, and now routinely gets calls asking when she’s bringing in the next batch.

This sense of community is evident on their social media feeds, with many leaving rave reviews and saying that each visit to La Dispensa Italiana is like taking a mini trip to Italy. 

Lenzotti, who was a long-standing force in the corporate sector, and Cosimo, who has 20 years of gastronomy experience, are very selective when sourcing their stock. They look for authentic Italian products that aren’t already on the Prague market.           

I make the lasagna as I would do for myself. I try to cover the costs, but honestly, I don’t make a lot of money off of it, I am sharing an experience, sharing the culture that’s behind the food. This is what’s embedded in our DNA.       

Stefania Lenzotti, co-owner of La Dispensa Italiana.

The shop, decorated with black-and-white photos of prominent Italian actresses from cinema’s Dolce Vita age, is stocked with carefully curated products from small family-run Italian farms and retailers. Traditional pastas and condiments from Marabotto, antipasto, olives and deli artichokes from Bella Contadina and olive oils and sauces from Frantoio Sant’Agata are some examples of what you’ll find on the shelves. 

La Dispensa Italiana is also one of the only places outside of Italy where you’ll be able to pick up cured meats from Salumificio Gianferrari, a small supplier in northern Italy that’s won prizes for its culatello. If you’re looking for gluten-free, that’s available here, too, with a generous line of Primavera Foods’ Le Voglie risottos. The fresh cheese is from Mozzarellart, which has developed a loyal following since it debuted in Prague a decade earlier.    

“We pick everything ourselves,” says Lenzotti, “and try to introduce new items every month.” The most recent addition? The shop’s unique Christmas baskets, which were designed by Lenzotti and Cosimo. The red-leather baskets, a gift all on their own, are filled with a mix of the shop’s bestsellers as well as seasonal goodies, like pandoro cakes and torrone.              

When you enter La Dispensa Italiana, you’re not just a customer – you’re family. You’re not meant to rush in and out, but to linger over a cappuccino and cheese samples, while Lenzotti helps you prepare your dinner menu and pick out a wine pairing. 

“Cooking doesn’t have to be difficult. If you know just two or three steps, your meals will be transformed. Take, for instance, Pesto alla Genovese, if you have some cherry tomatoes, add a little bit of olive oil, and let them explode in your mouth,” Lenzotti says. “This is the type of relationship I want to have with our customers. These little details make all the difference.”

To strengthen these ties, Lenzotti and Cosimo regularly update the shop’s TikTok and Instagram accounts with recipe tips and behind-the-scenes secrets about making, for example, a great pinsa.

“We have poured our souls into this,” says Lenzotti, ”and are just looking to share our love of food and culture.” These remarkable women have seemingly achieved just that with their small but welcoming shop, imbued with the unmistakable passion and unforgettable cuisine of the Italian Mamma.

This article was written in cooperation with La dispensa Italiana. Read more about our partner content policies here.

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