How Ina Garten Became The Iconic Barefoot Contessa

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If you've ever wondered how Ina Garten became known as the Barefoot Contessa, the reason is multifaceted. Her famous moniker is shared with the specialty foods store that she owned for 18 years. As Garten tells the story on her website, in 1978 she noticed a 'for sale' ad for the shop in the New York Times. She and her husband Jeffrey hopped in the car and drove out to Long Island to check it out, and on a whim, she made the owner an offer. By her own admission, the offer was too low, but much to her astonishment, the seller accepted. The turnkey store had been in business for quite some time before Garten took it over, and it came complete with its now iconic name ... The Barefoot Contessa.

How that came to be the store's name is the next layer of the story. The original owner of the Westhampton Beach business was an Italian woman named Diana Stratta. As a child, her family had nicknamed her the Barefoot Contessa and the name stuck.

Ironically, despite the great success Garten has had since adopting the brand as her own, she almost didn't keep the name. Speaking with MSNBC, she revealed that she had initially considered dropping it. "I actually thought it was a terrible name. Who calls a food store Barefoot Contessa?" Apparently it grew on her, however, as she later admitted that "[i]t would've been a terrible thing to change it" (via Business Insider).

A brief history of the Barefoot Contessa

Before it became synonymous with Ina Garten and her culinary empire, what started as a young girl's nickname and then a store name was originally the title of a classic movie. "The Barefoot Contessa" is a 1954 film starring Ava Gardner and Humphrey Bogart, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (whose other notable works include "All About Eve," "Cleopatra," and "Julius Caesar"). The story revolves around a beautiful flamenco dancer who becomes a Hollywood star, with many of its lavish scenes filmed in Italy.

In a blog post about hosting an Oscars party, Garten explained that for her, the Barefoot Contessa name means "being both elegant and earthy." She compares this with dressing up simple recipes to make them elegant — in this case, the bougie ingredient Ina Garten adds to deviled eggs is caviar.

Managing her gourmet shop wasn't always elegant, especially since she dove in with no experience in the food industry or retail. On the 46th anniversary of taking over the shop, Garten reminisced on Instagram about working 22-hour-long days together with Diana Stratta for her first big holiday selling weekend, which fell on Memorial Day. The hard work paid off — the store eventually moved to a bigger space in East Hampton, and Garten ran the store for 18 years. In 1996, she sold The Barefoot Contessa to the store's manager and chef in order to focus on writing cookbooks. The shop closed for good in 2003.

The Barefoot Contessa in books, TV, and film

In 1999, Ina Garten published her eponymous "The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook." The bestseller would prove to be the first of many instances where she carried on the legacy of the name. The author now has 13 books under belt, and seven of them have Barefoot Contessa in their titles. For her upcoming 14th book, Ina Garten cleverly revealed the 2024 release date of her memoir, which will be titled "Be Ready When the Luck Happens." Her multi-Emmy-Award-winning Food Network television series named "Barefoot Contessa" ran for nearly 30 seasons from 2002 to 2021 and featured some of Ina Garten's best recipes

While the much-loved physical shop has long since closed its doors, you can still peruse a selection of her favorite ingredients, curated for sale in her online store. There's everything from cookware to kitchen equipment, and it's where you can find Ina Garten-worthy olive oil, fancy flaky salt, and imported dried pasta.

For a glimpse at what it would have been like to visit the Barefoot Contessa in the Hamptons before it shut down, watch the 2003 movie "Something's Gotta Give" directed by Nancy Meyers. Meyers had been to the store and envisioned filming a scene for her rom-com there, but by the time filming rolled around, the shop had already gone out of business. To capture the feel of what it was like, the store was painstakingly recreated for a scene with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton.