Chris Tenuta is the third-generation owner of Tenuta's, 3203 52nd St., in Kenosha. The Italian food and liquor store was opened in 1950 by Chris' grandfather, John Tenuta, and remains a thriving family-owned business more than 60 years later.
History is a large part of Tenuta's culture. The front vestibule is filled with framed photos of family members and customers.
Prior to opening the store, John – who came to the United States from Consenza, Italy in 1920 –worked in a factory. During the middle part of his life, John opened the first Tenuta's which was was more of a candy / ice cream shop than a grocery store. Today, Chris is the sole owner, but four of his six siblings also work at the store.
"It's a lot of hard work," says Chris. "We cater to people; provide a lot of personal attention."
Chris says Tenuta's Kenosha location, which is more or less halfway between Chicago and Milwaukee, contributes to the store's long-term success. Also the fact that there isn't a lot of competition in Kenosha – or surrounding areas for that matter.
"We do a lot of unique stuff here. We're trying to be more than a grocery store," he says.
For Italian food lovers, and alcohol lovers, Tenuta's is a dream come true.
The massive liquor section features cooler after cooler of micro and macro beers from around the world and many aisles of the harder stuff, too. Bottles range in price from vodkas that cost under $10 to $2,000 for a bottle of Louis XIII cognac. And the Scotch selection offers a bottle for $9.99 as well as a 350-year-old Glenfiddich for $350.
There's also a large wine department with a decent buy-one-get-one-free wine section. Tenuta's also features, quite possibly, the best selection of mini liquor bottles in the state, including an adorable, tiny round bottle of Chambord.
"We've always carried a lot of specialty stuff. As much as we could," says Chris.
The enormous cheese selection is so large that Chris couldn't even give a ball park estimate of how many different kinds he sells.
The deli / bakery has loads of of meats, olives, pizzas and salads along with Turano bread items and decadent desserts. During the summer months, Tenuta's offers walk-up, outdoor deli service featuring hot beef sandwiches, Italian sausages (made in-store), paninis (made in-store), all-beef hot dogs, bratwursts and more.
Because John was a cigar smoker, Tenuta's has always offered a large selection of stogies, including Ashton, Montecristo and Rocky Patel. "It's as good of a selection as most tobacco shops have," says Chris.
Other Tenuta's specialties include bagged nuts and candy (including yogurt-covered everything), espresso, kitchen goods – meat grinders, pasta machines, rosette irons, cannoli forms, bean slicers and cheese cloths – and fruit presses for winemaking.
"Sales for this stuff has slowed down quite a bit, with the Internet, but this used to be the only place you could get a lot of these things," says Chris.
The frozen food section is spectacular as well, with homemade ravioli filled with everything from cheese to salmon to sausage to pumpkin to pear, along with frozen lobster tails, stuffed scallops, homemade soups, burek and more.
The pasta aisle sports noodles of every shape: penne, ditalini, spaghetti tagliati, fusilli, orzo, coccioline, orecchiette, regine and more. Plus, the oil and vinegar aisle is exhaustive, the poleta selection is almost mind boggling (who knew there were so many kinds of the cornmeal-like mush?) and there's an aisle exclusively for canned tomatoes – crushed, petite diced, plum, fire roasted, whole peeled, Italian cherry and more.
"Our jarred peppers and giardiniera is really popular, too," says Chris.
There's also a strange little section of flasks, Italian patches and stickers, playing cards in various shapes and sizes (including round) and buttons with quippy statements like, "There are Italians and those who want to be!"
At this point, Chris says he has no interest in expanding the business or opening another shop. He likes being friendly and available to shoppers, which is made obvious by the way he stops to chat with multiple customers who know him by name.
"I don't want to spread myself too thin," he says. "And good workers are hard to find."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.