Dadmissions: The Deli

There’s something about a deli that can bring a family and a community together. I should know. I’ve been surrounded by delis most of my life. In fact, aside from shoveling snow or raking leaves or cleaning my room for allowance money, my first-ever job was as a bus boy at a deli. Stephen’s Deli to be exact in Sharon, Massachusetts. I don’t know exactly when I started there or why. All I know is I remember being the bus boy on weekend mornings. I’d walk down to the Sharon Heights shopping plaza and wait for the deli to open. Zeppy’s bagel bakery would drop off what seemed like 25 or 30 paper bags full of fresh, hot bagels, right out of the oven, and leave them on the deli doorstep. You could feel the steam coming off the bags and smell the aroma of onion bagels, sesame bagels, egg bagels and the like. My morning was spent with four guys- a deli brotherhood of sorts. There was Richie on the grill and Mike on the carving station, and Jocko who handled the counter and a little bit of everything else, and Stephen who ran it all. Richie, Jocko, and Mike were like the Rolling Stones of the deli scene. They’d been doing this forever but could still work like a finely tuned machine. The first task was always to bring in those hot bagels and sort them into the proper bins. We’d flip the switch on those neon signs- one said “open” and the other said “deli” and then we were in business. I had all sorts of jobs- bussing the tables and washing the dishes. Damn, I had disdain for anyone who ordered sunny side eggs because the yolk would stick to the plate and never come off even after a pre-rinse and then a trip through the dishwasher. The deli would start to fill up. People would have their conversations. Stephen’s mom and dad would show up frequently. Dad would read the paper and have breakfast. Mom would do all sorts of things to help out. My own mom and dad would show up once in a while. I could always tell when they’d been there even if I was stuck in the back because there were only a couple of folks who would leave tips for the busboy. By mid morning we’d be boiling corned beef hot on the stove. Stephen added a whole bunch of spices and seasonings and that smell of corned beef would fill the deli. Richie was always looking after me and would cook me a meal in the middle of my shift. I learned about the stacking of a proper Reuben and the making of a perfect LEO (lox, eggs, and onions). I learned how to hand mix chives or lox into these massive and cold forty pound bricks of cream cheese that we would then sculpt into their pans and put on display. By late morning that place was hopping. Every table was taken. The grill was going. People were talking and connecting and enjoying. You knew the regulars. They’d take the same tables and order the same breakfasts week after week. They were the glue of the deli as predictable and dependable as the sunrise. By lunchtime, we were cooking burgers and pearl hot dogs- those huge hot dogs which were split down the middle and grilled on both sides. My shift would end around noon each Saturday just as Stephen was usually pulling those hot corned beefs out of the boiling water. It was and still remains the best corned beef I have ever had in my entire life. I earned a whopping four bucks an hour of minimum wage when I started and four twenty-five when I left. But I also learned about discipline and hard work and earning a living. Just like the deli business had been passed to Stephen, he eventually passed the deli business to someone else. Long after the deli signs at Stephens were flipped off for the last time, I still remember fondly those weekend mornings. Today, all these years later, I took the family to Canter’s deli in LA’s Fairfax District and as soon as we walked in, those deli smells and deli memories came alive again. There’s something about a deli that can bring a family and a community together. I should know. I’ve been surrounded by delis most of my life.

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About dadmissions

author of Dadmissions. surrounded by a wife and two girls... and a dog named Cupcake
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2 Responses to Dadmissions: The Deli

  1. Neil says:

    Great story. I remember Stephen’s Deli before it was Stephen’s Deli!

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