Calgarians love their Italian markets, and the heart of those markets is usually the deli.

A new one popped up around Christmas — Sauce Italian Kitchen and Market is in a brand new building on 17th Avenue and the corner of 33rd St, and Michelle Hobbs — or "Mich" as everyone knows her — is running the deli.

Having grown up mostly in Europe, moving around a lot with parents working in the oil and gas industry, Mich and her family landed in Edmonton when she was 16.

There she attended NAIT, studying culinary arts and earning her chef's papers in 1994 before settling in Calgary with her husband and (now teenage) daughter in 2008.

Sauce deli menu

The deli menu at Sauce Italian Kitchen changes frequently, with new items and classic favourites on constant rotation. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

She's been cooking around the city ever since, from Sky 360 at the top of the tower to San Remo Ristorante in Garrison Woods, where she met and became friends with owner Jenna Bazzanna.

Bazzanna, a graduate of the SAIT culinary arts program the same year as Mich, owned both San Remo locations — in Garrison Woods and McKenzie Towne (she now just owns the one in McKenzie Towne) — but after serving up casual Italian fare in two neighbourhood settings since 2001, she decided it was time for a new direction.

Bazzanna started looking for a space that would accommodate a small market, coffee shop/bakery, deli and full service restaurant, all in one.

Chef Rod Lazentales, who went to SAIT with Jenna, is at the helm of their full-service restaurant, and she brought in a skilled home baker who recently left the oil and gas sector to fill their pastry case. (When they first opened in mid-December, they'd go through 400 hand-dipped and filled cannoli per week.)

Sauce deli cabinet

The pastry case is filled with creamy cannolis, decadent cakes, and savour dips. (Julie Van Rosendaal)

They open early, at 7 a.m., and roast their own coffee beans for cappuccino and espresso. The large, soft loaves of freshly baked bread on display as you walk in the door sell for $2.

"I don't want to gouge people," said Bazzanna. "People who come in love food. We have to stay open, and it has to be affordable."

She called Mich in to run the deli, knowing her skill set in the art of lunch.

"She just kind of lets us run with it," Mich said of Bazzanna. "She lets us do our thing, which is amazing as a chef."

She and her staff play with their food, rotating new items with the classics to keep things interesting. Some days you might find a kale Caesar, on another day, Mich's granny's potato salad. 

Top secret artichoke dip

"I love food stories. This artichoke dip, for example," Mich said, picking up a container of creamy, pale green dip I've already tasted at the deli counter and added to my basket. "I learned to make this in Edmonton at this great place called the Sweetwater Café. The formula was very heavily guarded.

Jenna Bazzanna

“I don’t want to gouge people,” says owner Jenna Bazzanna. “People who come in love food. We have to stay open, and it has to be affordable.” (Julie Van Rosendaal)

"Our boss was like, this recipe better not get out! But I had memorized it, so it left with me. 

"Since the restaurant closed, I've given this recipe as a gift to people who used to love the place — but only for special occasions. It's your 25th birthday? Getting married? Here's the artichoke dip recipe! It's the stuff, man. Now I make it here."

Their fresh pizza kits — handmade dough, sauce and grated cheese packaged up to go for $10 — fly out of the display case on Fridays afternoons.

People sometimes pick up salamis, olives and other toppings to dress them up at home. The refrigerator/freezer case is stocked with lasagnas and containers of Bazzanna's grandma's Bolognese sauce that inspired the market name.

Now that the space is up and running, there are plans to hold cooking classes on Thursday nights with Mich in the deli.

"It's all about making people happy," Mich says. "That's the beauty of food – it brings people together and makes them happy. And that's the best part of my job."

Sauce Italian Market

Sauce's restaurant says it prioritizes fresh, simple ingredients from local producers in its innovative Italian dishes. (Sauce Italian Market/Facebook)


Sauce Italian Kitchen and Market, 3326 17 Ave SW, 403-727-7627, sauceitalianmarket.com, @sauceCalgary