Pueblo native Vince Gagliano describes himself as a first-generation Italian-American and fourth-generation grocer.
His family has run Gagliano’s Italian Market and Deli at 1220 Elm St since 1921. – Pueblo staple. The store’s customer base includes community members and out-of-towners who have either heard of its fame or “wanted a home”.
Today, when driving through the Pueblo, tourists pass Italian restaurants and businesses flying green, white and red flags. Residents are drawn to Galliano and other Italian-American institutions—not just for their goods and services, but for the cultural connections they provide between past and present.
In the 1850’s, Italians began building new homes in Colorado. According to the Italian Sons and Daughters of America, the nonprofit group, the Pueblo in particular drew them and other immigrants to the city because of its jobs at the Colorado Fuel and Steel Company’s steel mills, as well as agricultural and smelting jobs.
“By 1922, about one in five people in Colorado were Italian-American,” Colorado History reports. In 2019, this subgroup still represented around 5% of the total population.
Gagliano — whose surname is correctly pronounced “Galiano” — first spoke a Sicilian dialect of Italian before learning English at the age of 5. He lives a block from the store and spends “every day” at the family business near Bessemer.
His lineage’s heritage in the Pueblo dates back to 1910, when his great-uncle opened a grocery store next to a steel mill after leaving Sicily. His grandfather moved to Colorado City as a refugee in 1955 because of World War II, and his father—a teenager at the time—followed him.
His cousins ran the current store until Galliano, his Sicilian parents and sister took over in 1997. It’s since grown from a simple grocer — famous for 101 years for the family-made Italian sausage — into a much larger operation selling homemade meatballs, lasagna, Italian biscuits and more. The business imports pasta, local produce and its family’s award-winning olive oil from Italy.
Five years ago, Galliano also built a processing plant to make sausages. “It’s a tough job.”
Customers passing by the deli and market might encounter Gagliano’s 83-year-old father, who pulls out a map of Italy to discuss family roots, or his mother, who directs business from a chair. His wife makes bread and his teenage son helps with groceries.
Galliano still sees southern Colorado as a center for Italian-Americans, and one of his sons is learning Italian in high school. But time will only tell if they will continue the family business.
“Everyone should have a dream, you know?” Galliano said.
“A Fascinating Chapter in America”
Unlike New York City, Chicago and Boston, “Colorado is not where we think of when we think of Italian communities,” said Marianna Gatto, an Italian-American historian and executive director of the Italian American Museum in Los Angeles . “It’s a fascinating chapter in America that we don’t highlight or explore very often.”
Her ancestors settled in Pueblo in 1898, and she lives in the city part-time. Her grandmother’s family — the Cortese family — hails from the Sicilian town of Lucca Sicula, the sister city of the Pueblo.
During the late 1800s and early 1900s, residents of impoverished Italian villages were recruited to participate in booming American industries such as farming, mining, and railroads. Gatto’s relatives landed first in Louisiana, working in the sugar cane and cotton industries, then working in smelters and factories in the Pueblos — and eventually building homes in Colorado.
In highlighting Pueblo businesses as cultural cornerstones, “at the top of the list is of course Galliano,” Gatto said. The deli and market, along with La Tronica’s restaurant at 1143 E. Abriendo Ave., is visually representative of Colorado’s Italian community and has used food to make the culture “a little less exotic” after the immigrant population resettled to the United States
Baseball and early entertainers, including singer Frank Sinatra, also deepened Americans’ perceptions of Italians, who were initially stereotyped as “not aggressive.”
“People like the Gagliano family really do make a huge contribution to the community because they are the custodians of many traditions,” Gatto said. “There’s a lot of interest in preserving history — and I think even more so now.”
Dawn DiPrince, executive director of History Colorado, described the Pueblo’s Italian-American community as “very strong.” Her parents resettled in southern Colorado, including the Pueblo, in the early 20th century, working in industries related to the Colorado Fuel and Steel Company.
“I know these are the places my ancestors walked, and it’s like a powerful connection for me,” she said.
DiPrince said steel mills often served as a route for immigrants to obtain land titles, which explains the apparent association of Italian-American communities with agriculture today. She highlights the popularity of pueblo peppers — grown on local farms and used to flavor meatballs, sausage sandwiches, pizza and other Italian dishes.
“Food is the ultimate history lesson,” DiPrince said. “Smells and tastes can fascinate you.”
That exact feeling came when she crossed Gagliano’s threshold, the scent that greeted her at the door. Family members—young and old—make special requests for the store’s goat cheese, lemon drops, and more when they visit.
“Whenever I’m in the Pueblo, I go to Gagliano’s,” DiPrince says, calling it “an extension of the Italian kitchen.”
Jerry Carleo, president of the Italian-American Foundation of Colorado, cites Gagliano’s, La Tronica’s, Gus’ Tavern and Star Bar as businesses that have been run by Italian families for many years, with management now overseen by a younger generation.
Growing up in the Pueblo, “they were the place to go.” Both of Carleo’s grandparents were attracted by its booming steel industry and immigrated to the city, which he dubs “the little Pittsburgh of the West.”
His father’s side hails from southern Italy, while his mother’s side has roots in Sicily. Carleo’s ancestors settled in Colorado by different routes, with his maternal grandfather first via New Orleans—his wife ended up via Ellis Island in New York Harbor—and his grandfather via Toronto.
Carleo worked for a major oil company in Houston before returning home and was drawn to the community’s shared values and deep family ties.
“There’s a big rubber band around the pueblo,” he said. “You can run as hard as you want, as far as you want, and eventually, you get pulled back here. It’s incredible.”
By offering scholarships and hosting events, Carleo and others like him focus on instilling in their descendants a sense of responsibility to preserve their legacy—and prevent it from being reduced to “the thing”.
How important is it to keep the Pueblo’s Italian-American restaurants, bakeries, and corner bars alive and thriving? “On a scale from 1 to 10, approximately 50 because they represent the ancestral and historical structures of urban evolution”.