Zaza’s Italian Market opens on Bowery Street

Julia Parisi of Zaza's
KT Hawbaker of newly-opened Italian market, Zaza’s — photo by Matt Steele.

A fixture of the Iowa City Farmers Market since 2010, Zaza’s finally has a place to call home. The Italian market, located at 518 Bowery St., opened its doors on May 1 and offers customers an array of hand-made pastas and accoutrements, complemented by sundries imported from Italy.

Owner and University of Iowa graduate Julie Parisi, a descendant of Italian immigrants, says the concept for Zaza’s (a pet name for Parisi derived from her nephew’s attempt to pronounce “zia,” Italian for “aunt”) is based on her upbringing in Long Island, N.Y.

“Growing up in an Italian household, one cannot help but learn a thing or two about passionate cooking, bold flavors and feeding the masses,” Parisi said. “A holiday table with seating for 20 was an ordinary occurrence at our house. My mom and [grandmother] didn’t cut corners on anything.”

It took some time for Parisi to realize her life’s work and open Zaza’s. After completing a double bachelor’s degree in Italian and Political Science, Parisi traveled back to Long Island to be closer to her extended family and considered going to culinary school. After an unpleasant experience as “salad girl,” she moved to San Francisco to become a nanny for her uncle.

Marriage eventually lured Parisi back to Iowa (her husband is an Iowa City native), and she spent time pursuing a master’s degree in nursing before funding for her program got cut. It was then that the idea for Zaza’s presented itself, and with it, the opportunity for Parisi to pursue her passion for cooking on her own terms.

“There really wasn’t anywhere for people to find the kind of products I was used to,” Parisi said. “Now they have everything they need to create an authentic Italian meal.”

Parisi started Zaza’s Pastas out of her apartment and soon found outlets for her hand-crafted products at the Iowa City Farmers Market and the New Pioneer Co-op. As demand for her goods grew, she briefly moved her operation to a small kitchen in North Liberty before settling her business in its current location — a historically preserved and renovated space that once housed the New Pi Co-op.

“Fresh, traditional and innovative” are adjectives Parisi uses to describe the ethos of Zaza’s Pastas and Italian Market, and she expresses this through her traditional Italian flavors with local flair. Parisi uses produce and ingredients from the Farmers Market and other local sources to create her unique array of pastas like ravioli pasta made with beets and stuffed with walnut, fig and gorgonzola. In addition to pasta, she also sells sandwiches and imported goods like gluten-free pasta imported from Italy.

The tradition of providing an outlet for quality and locally-produced foodstuffs is not lost on Parisi. In addition to using local ingredients in her own goods, Zaza’s features a rotating array of local coffee brands such as Cafe del Sol, Capanna and Wake Up Iowa City. As the weather heats up, patrons can also find Capanna gelato on offer.

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