Cora Italian Specialties & Desco USA

Traditional Italian style merged with American innovation
Written by: 
Ivy Carter
Produced by: 
James Logan

Gelato, espresso, Panini, pastries and pasta – the preparation of some of the finest Italian foods is an art form, forged with great care, time and the specialty equipment to get the job done. Before companies, such as family-owned Cora Italian Specialties (CIS) and sister company Desco USA (Desco), it was difficult for American restaurants and consumers to access traditional Italian cafe products and kitchen equipment.

The Cora family has been a reliable source of imported equipment and supplies since 1960, when Peter Cora decided to open a coffee house in Chicago and discovered that in order to offer to his customers a good espresso coffee and cappuccino, he had to import both the equipment and the coffee beans from Italy.

Once Ali Coffee House opened its doors on the south side of Chicago, it did not take long for Peter to acquire not only the reputation of the true coffee connoisseur, but also of a leader in adopting the equipment from the old world to the different demands of the new world. In fact, Peter would gladly offer his advice not only on how to make the traditional Italian espresso and cappuccino, but also how the same espresso machine could be easily used to make a very American hot apple cider, hot chocolate or even prepare an order of scrambled eggs.

Having demonstrated how this traditional Italian equipment could also be utilized in the U.S., it was no surprise when both the Playboy Club and the Second City Theater Group contacted Peter and asked him if he could also import the same espresso machine and coffee beans he was using in his coffee house for them. The result: today, in addition to the original espresso machines and coffee beans Peter imported from Rome, CIS also offers an extensive line of other imported equipment and products best-suited for European-style cafes, gelato shops, pizzerias and restaurants.

Based in Countryside, Illinois, the third generation of the Cora family continues to partner with customers both in the Chicago area and nationwide by providing the best imported equipment and products that can be found in Italy and in the U.S.

“CIS traces its beginnings to 1960 when my father first realized that there may be a growing demand for espresso coffee equipment in the U.S.,” tells John Cora, second generation family owner of CIS and founder of Desco. “I started Desco in 1999 when some of CIS’ national accounts asked me if I could provide them with a pasta cooker similar in quality to the one they had been purchasing from CIS, but with sufficient power to be able to cook not only fresh and dry pasta, but also their frozen products, such as their frozen ravioli, gnocchi, etc. After trying repeatedly to convince our Italian supplier of pasta cookers, Desco Srl, that we needed a more powerful cooker in the U.S., one day I was finally told that if I really wanted to be able to sell a more powerful pasta cooker, it would be best for me to invest my own money and produce it myself. And this is exactly what I did; Desco was born.”

Cora Italian Specialties

Handling the heat

“What sets us apart from other Italian manufacturers is that Desco specializes in pasta cookers specifically designed for the needs of the U.S. market and not those of Italy where most chefs will cook only fresh and dry pasta,” says John. “Currently, about 80 percent of our sales are pasta cookers.”

John goes on to explain that the main difference between the U.S. and many other European countries is the restrictions on energy consumption. “These restrictions encourage all European manufacturers to produce equipment that is so limited in its power requirements that all Italian pasta cookers will have only enough power to cook fresh and dry pasta, but not enough to also cook anything frozen,” he details. “Say you open a restaurant in Italy with 100 seats; you may be only allowed to use a maximum amount of 200,000 but for the entire restaurant, it follows that in order to make their equipment more attractive to a would-be buyer, all manufacturers want to be able to claim that their equipment will require less energy than that of their competitors.”

However, John notes there are consequences. “Most Italian manufacturers tend to under power their own equipment,” he explains. “We found out that the pasta cookers we were importing, while very well insulated and consequently much more energy efficient than their American made counterparts, being equipped with only 46,500 btu for each 11 gallon tank, they couldn’t handle the frozen pasta products frequently found in the American kitchens. As soon as they introduced a frozen product in the tank, such as frozen ravioli or gnocchi, the cooker would lose the boil and both the frozen product and the regular pasta wouldn’t come out right.”

John realized that in order to be successful in a commercial kitchen, a different model, up to American power standards, was needed. “We formed Desco and invested in a new design featuring two gas burners per tank instead of the single burner of the Italian units and by doing so, we almost doubled its power,” he tells. “We’re the only ones in the U.S. with this design and our pasta cookers will get to approximately 80,000 btu per tank.”

Nationwide distribution

“By merging Italian manufacturing standards with American power, we continue to offer the restaurant industry the best equipment possible,” assures John.

Desco’s cookers are still made in Italy and distributed from the company’s 15,000-square-foot warehouse site in Countryside. “Everything is custom made to our specifications in Italy,” continues John. “It’s shipped here and we distribute the equipment to dealers and food distributors across the U.S. Most of our regular equipment dealers will purchase just one or two pieces, but our stocking dealers will normally purchase 12 units at a time.”

From humble coffee shop beginnings, the Cora family has expanded its client base to include many cafes, caterers, restaurants, hospitality centers and well-known restaurant chains operating not only in the U.S., but also abroad.

“When it comes to pasta cookers, today some of the best establishments and chains, such as Eataly, Macaroni Grill, PFC Chang and many others, routinely order only the Desco brand of pasta cookers,” John says proudly.

With more than 1,100 products housed in the Cora Italian Specialties & Desco USA warehouses, the sister companies are sure to have the equipment well-suited for the executive chef all the way to the home cook.

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Associated Foreign Exchange