Dedicated Customers Help a NJ Deli Stay Open During the Pandemic

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April 16, 2021

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(SOUTH BRUNSWICK, N.J) — Joe’s Deli could see a turnaround soon, says the owner’s son, after the deli refused to shut down at the outbreak of COVID-19. The restaurant, run by father and son duo Joe and Giovanni Distefano, kept the doors open after customers begged them not to close.

Joe’s Italian Deli is a small family business in Kendall Park that has been open since 1993.

“I have been with my father from day one,” said Giovanni, “from when I was a kid.”

Even though the Distefano’s decided to keep the business running through the pandemic, they still ran into money problems.

“The rent still stayed the same, the electricity still stayed the same—you know, the big bills,” Giovanni told The Click. “We lost two-thirds of our business. No catering, obviously. No one is having parties, so the deli is what kept us going.”

The Distefano’s were able to rely on the support of regular customers, who enjoy the deli’s wide array of menu options, from hot and cold hoagies, pastas, wraps, paninis, and the full-fledged traditional Italian menu. Business has picked up recently, with more customers  coming in regularly. However, indoor dining and catering is suspended.

“When the customers come in we know them by name and treat them like family,” said Giovanni, who added that all of Joe’s Deli’s ingredients are fresh. “We make the chicken hourly; those chicken cutlets are being made fresh hourly. … We use Pastosa’s [fresh ravioli], which is an authentic Italian brand in Brooklyn.”

The pandemic has opened opportunities for the small Italian restaurant to help essential workers. When community members struggled to pool enough money to order food for the local medical staff, the Distefano’s covered the difference.

“I was sending stuff over to the hospital like crazy, y’know?” said Giovanni. “People were helping out with the nurses and doctors. We did a lot of that stuff, that was beautiful. The neighborhood came together for that.”

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