Business Person of the Month: Pam Cannatella

Cannatella’s Grocery might not fit the immediate picture of an entrepreneurial venture — the Baton Rouge store is an outgrowth of a Melville, LA, staple that’s been in the community for nearly a hundred years, and as a family business, the Cannatellas aren’t interested in endless growth.  When I talked to Pam Cannatella, fourth-generation owner and operator of the new location, however, it was obvious that she is just as much the entrepreneur as the flashiest techno-hypist in San Fransisco, even though she may not be firing cars into space.  Pam provides an important service to her adopted community here in Baton Rouge, and she plans on doing it well for a long time.

The Cannatellas moved into their location at 3869 Government Street in 2019, in response to a shrinking population in Melville, where the “Old Store” has been based for nearly a hundred years.  They immediately liked the new building for its resemblances to the original, and they stocked it full of prepared and shelf-stable foods that they thought Mid-Cityers might appreciate — including a lot of organic foods.

“As we started seeing our customers come through,” though, Pam says, “I realized that they are really more traditional shoppers … they’re buying more of the prepared foods, because folks around here, they don’t really have time to cook.”  Luckily, Cannatella’s is widely known for the quality of their prepared foods, which Pam’s husband Grant makes at their Melville location, and which Pam drives to the store in Baton Rouge every day.  The prepared foods have been so successful that they’ve seen demand for some products double, such as their most popular, meatballs & gravy and lasagna.  Of course, Pam took it in stride: every night at closing, she inventories the store’s freezers and coolers, then Grant cooks what’s needed, enabling Pam to replinish the stores each morning.

All the back-and-forth between Melville and Baton Rouge has meant that Pam has had to be less-involved in her Melville community, where she was mayor a few years ago.  However, she hopes to become more involved with the Mid-City Merchants, the Mid-City Redevelopment Alliance, Associated Grocers, and other groups here in Baton Rouge and around the country that work with the small business community.  She did say that the lack of clear regulatory direction in Louisiana was a burden, even with the benefit of being in business for generations: “I think there needs to be kind of a one-stop-shop, someone to walk you through” putting together a business.

After the initial hurdles, though, Cannatella’s location in Baton Rouge has been doing pretty well.  They were lucky during the COVID pandemic, and haven’t experienced much loss in revenue.  Pam has been experimenting with new product lines, including making pastas in-store, and she has a lot of plans for new merchandise and food storage, to keep up with the demand for “Heat-and-Eats.”

More than anything, she loves visiting with her customers.  She says, “Every day, there’s somebody that walks in here that has a Melville story.  Either they know somebody from Melville, or they’re from Melville — there’s some Melville connection.  They tell me these old home stories.”  She’s living proof of her mantra — “Do what’s right, work hard, and everything else is going to fall into place” — and with Pam at the wheel, I think people will be talking about the Canatella’s in Baton Rouge for a long time to come.

Post by Case Duckworth

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