We bought a deli, it was located in Port Jefferson, New York. It was right across the street from where the ferry to Bridgeport Connecticut docks. There was also a marina, a hotel and several restaurants in the area. I had very high hopes for the future. I quickly learned what a fantasy that was.

          Owning a deli is not as glamorous as you might think. The work is hard, and the hours are long. I had never worked in the food industry, my partner who was also my husband was a certified chef. I thought I was going to sit at the cash register and take in the money. I knew nothing about how the food industry worked. I worked as a general manager for a new car dealership for over ten years. I could handle the bookkeeping for the deli with no problem, and of course take in the money.

          We cleaned the store from top to bottom. Mike ordered food from the purveyors, put a few tables in the front, purchased two more slicers, a new scale and cash register. In the back of the deli we had a stove with six burners, an oven, and a grill, a triple sink, a pizza oven, a long stainless steel counter, a fifteen by fifteen walk-in, a desk, and a wall with shelves.

          I assumed Mike would do all the cooking, we would hire a couple of people to work the counter and that would be it. I didn’t realize I was assuming myself right into Hell. We also offered catering to our customers. I don’t know what the hell I was thinking at the time, but it was not reality.

It started with the cleaning. I never saw such filth and grease in my whole life, and I, yes I had to help clean this up. I suggested a cleaning company, but Mike just laughed at me and handed me a scraper, and a pair of rubber gloves. Overnight he turned from a quiet funny guy into

a man barking orders at everyone, including me! I looked at him and wondered who is this man and where the hell is my husband?

         I chalked it up to nerves and did what I was asked to do. The workers did as they were told, and by the end of a week the deli was spotless. The shelves were full with supplies, the walk-in was spotless and organized, loaded with soda, water, beer, juices and perishable foods. Mike had a marker with indelible ink and put dates on all the food and supplies in the walk-in, so everyone working could rotate the supplies properly. The front of the deli had a cold-cut case and a station where we kept hot food, there was also a case for cold food, potato salad, coleslaw, tuna, egg salad, chicken cutlets, and several other salads.

          Everyone including me had to learn how to use a slicer, and clean it, how to use a knife while cutting a roll or bagel, or slicing a sandwich in half. The thickness that the cold cuts should be when slicing them. A coffee station was set up and there had to be a certain amount of coffee filters filled and ready to be put in the machine when needed. Mike also put two large ice tea dispensers in plain view. The cases had to be cleaned and sanitized every day. All raw meat had to be weighed as it was delivered to make sure the weight was exactly what we were being charged for. All produce had to be inspected for freshness.

          I knew I was in over my head the day my husband put a huge pot on the stove and brought out over twenty pounds of ground beef, cans and cans of tomatoes and all the fixings for making meatballs and sauce, and it was all for me!

         “You make the best meatballs and sauce, the customers will love it.” The words that came out of my mouth next shocked me,

         “Are you fucking kidding me? I never made that much sauce and meatballs at one time in my whole life!” His reply was.

           ” Don’t worry,  I’ll help you with it, and look I even bought you a new wooden spoon.”

           The damn thing was almost as tall as me! I didn’t realize how much there was to learn about working in a deli, panic put it’s arms around me and squeezed.


    • I grew up in a deli in Farmingville, LI in the late fiftiess and early sixties. I think it got too much for my folks since they sold it and we moved to Centereach after that. I remember s string of deli jobs my mother had and the tubs of potato salad I used to help with on weekends or after school. Its a lot of work, but a deli can bring in a community too .. Great post.


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