After a trip to Italy in 2003, Bill Disselhorst and his wife Anne fell in love with the country—so much so, in fact, that they bought an apartment there. One of the places that they loved visiting was Campo de’ Fiori in Rome, a vibrant open-air market that sells flowers, food, and small gifts.
“Anne was 50 percent Italian, and while I don’t have Italian blood, after that first trip I realized that in another life I was somewhere in Italy,” Disselhorst said. “We were heavily influenced by Italy.”
Seven years later, Disselhorst was about to lose his job, so he and his wife decided to seize the opportunity to open their own restaurant in South Pasadena.
“I had always wanted to have a pizza restaurant and drove by a vacant space in the area that had previously been a pizza place,” he explained. “After we applied to get the space, it ended up going to Radhika Modern Indian. However, I did buy the wood oven that was there and ended up putting it in my home. After that, every day I would walk around looking for available spaces, and saw that that there was a spot available next to the Fremont Centre Theatre. I connected with the landlord, and when Anne and I got this space, we knew we could do something special with it.”
Disselhorst had been in the restaurant business his entire life, and met Anne when she was working as a server. Later on, she ran a catering business with her brothers—so food was always in their blood.
The couple created the menu for their restaurant over the course of one week in their kitchen at home, and Fiore Market Café opened its doors in December 2010, serving lunch daily. While taking much inspiration from Italian philosophies, the food they serve is American—fresh daily baked bread, sandwiches, salads, and baked goods make up the bulk of the menu items.
“The thing that inspired us most food-wise was the concept of making everything fresh and for the day,” said Disselhorst. “We bake our bread daily and only serve it that day, and all our meat is roasted in-house. We don’t make pasta or the dishes you would typically eat in Italy. We’ve never changed the menu since we opened, but every day we have a special sandwich, like pork belly with fig jam and arugula. One of my guys here came up with a rosemary chicken sandwich that is another favorite. Everything here is popular because our menu is really tight.”
Other dishes that are in high-demand at Fiore Market Café include the roast chicken sandwich with pesto and burrata, short rib sandwich, cold rare roast beef sandwich, vegetarian chopped salad, and Asian chicken salad. They also serve tasty baked goods such as cupcakes, cookies, lemon bars, brownies, as well as a special treat known as the Magic Bar, which was inspired by a trip the couple had taken together.
“Anne and I were in San Luis Obispo a couple of years ago, and we had gone to this coffee place where she tried something called the Everything Cookie,” explained Disselhorst. “She thought it was the best cookie she ever had in her life. So, when we came back she created the Magic Bar, which has a wafer crust and is topped with sweetened condensed milk, coconut, white chocolate chips, chocolate chips, pecans, and a little sea salt.”
The café has a garden in front, which Disselhorst will sometimes pull ingredients from like tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash and herbs to use in his dishes when he can. Back when the restaurant first opened and things were less busy, he would make fresh jam from figs and other fruits, then sell them in the cafe—these days his time is more limited, but he does sell some delicious jams by French company L’Epicurien, featuring an array of flavors from blackcurrant to apricot and lavender.
For those that can’t get enough of Fiore Market Café’s fresh bread, Disselhorst also offers baking classes where he teaches attendees how to make baguettes and sandwich loaves, which they can then take home. To sign up for a spot on of his classes, visit the cafe website and follow them on Instagram: @fioremarketcafe.
“When Anne and I came to this community, we didn’t know anybody,” said Disselhorst. “Everyone here is so fantastic and it’s a beautiful place. We’re grateful for the community and for the regulars that come in. What’s so rewarding for me is when someone takes a bite of their sandwich, and I see their reaction or hear them say something. I believe that when you eat something and it’s exactly right, your whole sense of wellbeing is affected and that’s really special.”
Sadly, Anne passed away in July 2017, but her spirit and memory lives on in Fiore Market Cafe and throughout the community. One thing that was always important to the couple was to make all of their guests feel welcome and at-home, which is something that Disselhorst continues to do to this day.
“I never liked that feeling of going to a restaurant, knowing you’re just another number and that the only goal is for you to leave after paying,” he said. “Here, you can come in and stay as long as you want—I don’t care if somebody sits at a table all day. It’s about people feeling comfortable, warm, and welcome when they’re here. Anne and I always recognized our customers, because we knew that we were nothing without them. When she passed away, we had a little service here at the café, and hundreds of people from the community came out. It was absolutely amazing.”
Fiore Market Cafe is located at 1000 Fremont Ave. in South Pasadena. It is open Mon. – Sat. from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and closed on Sunday. For more information, call (626) 441-2280 or visit www.fioremarketcafe.com.
Fiore Market Cafe Business Spotlight appeared in the print edition of the South Pasadena Review on 4.5.19. Support Local Business.