How easy is it to find a community’s heartbeat?
The way we live these days via virtual communication and simulated reality, it’s hard to know if we’d even recognize the real deal... that is, until we see it.
Walk into Giannoni’s Deli on Garth Road in Scarsdale, and it’s as if you’ve slipped into a wormhole to the distant past; floundering in the quantum foam, you thrash about, searching for a way to extract yourself from this strange black hole stuck squarely in the “Leave It to Beaver” era.
But just as you’re ready to turn on your heel and skedaddle before June Cleaver beams in with a bowl of Jell-o salad, you notice the smiling faces.
The photos of high school sports teams on the wall.
The “Good Fellas” poster; the gallon cans of tomatoes; the rowdy group of men scarfing down perfectly flaky, ponderously large, sweet-tart apple turnovers and arguing politics by the window.
And take a deep breath - the air is thick with the scent of powdered sugar, toasty melting brown butter, freshly fried donuts and passionate polemics issued on every side of the conflict in the Middle East.
The owner of Giannoni’s Deli, Scott Weishaus and his mother, Marie, have been running the deli-diner for 18 years, but it seems like the kind of place that has been passed through generations of hands. In fact, some of it has.
“The recipe we use for donuts has been in various shops on Garth Road for the past 50 years," said Scott Weishaus. "I learned to make them 18 years ago from a cook who learned to make them from the owner of another diner on this block 20 or so years before he taught me. Who knows where it came from before that?”
That sensation of confused déjà vu makes sense – Giannoni’s is emblematic of the old-fashioned conception of what home should be.
Sure, maybe not everyone’s Mom is an Italian guy who fries up apple turnovers while toasting you a bagel, scrambling an egg and asking you how your day was, what you feel like eating, smile, already, life is short, go and grab a chair and settle in for a while, come on! But, just like it was at Beaver’s house, yummy comfort food and unconditional acceptance of everyone’s quirks is always on the menu at Giannoni’s.
After ordering pancakes covered in bacon and grabbing a cup of coffee, it feels completely natural to walk over and join the boisterous group of guys by the window, slurp down a cup of Joe and dig into fluffy, buttery, light as a feather pancakes, drizzled in sweet maple syrup and covered in salty-crispy strips of thick bacon.
The guys -- Morris, Herbert, Mike, Bill and Rick -- have been gathering at Giannoni’s since it opened They’ve changed jobs, retired, switched from fried eggs to scrambled whites and cemented best friendships built on the kind of trust and mutual respect that prompts them to dress up like hula girls in grass skirts and coconut tops for Herbert’s 70th birthday party (photographic evidence appears on Giannoni’s wall).
“Scott’s like a son to me,” Rick said. “Every morning, we wake up, come in here for really good food at good prices, we sit around and take care of all the world’s problems and then go home. And it’s not even 10 a.m. yet! Where else can you do that?”
The rest of the Middle East convoy – for once – agreed.
“Scott likes to keep a low profile, he doesn’t talk about himself,” Morris said. “But this deli has changed the community. It’s the one place in town where you can always find great food that’s affordable in this economy and an atmosphere that welcomes everyone, from highway workers in their uniforms to office workers in their suits to families of four.
"We’re all comfortable here," Morris continued. "And Scott knows what we like! He has everyone’s usual orders memorized, and he can take one look at you and know what you want before you do.”
When the store opens at 5:30 a.m., there are usually a few regulars ready to place their orders or already phoning them in from the road. The Middle East convoy usual parks for an hour or two, resolves various planetary crises and then makes way for the group of folks who come to Giannoni’s after church on the weekends, and office workers during the week. High schoolers rule in the afternoons.
Scott’s approach to restaurateuring is simple. “We don’t advertise,” he said. “It’s all word of mouth. My customers are my family – a lot of the sandwiches we have on the wall are named after our customers.”
Like all good families, there have been adjustments – beyond the de rigueur menu tweak -- made to suit various whims and needs.
“Once a month we stay open until 2 a.m.,” said Scott. “We’ve been doing it for a few years now. A few of the kids approached me about it, and I loved the idea. The first Saturday we did it, the police actually almost shut it down because we had 250 kids in and around the shop, and they didn’t know what to make of it.”
Despite the heterogeneous crowd of opinionated retirees and rowdy high schoolers, there hasn’t been a fist fight, ever. (Word is that one of the church ladies is a bit of a trouble maker, but that’s just hearsay.) Politicians, take note: $2 apple turnovers, $3.95 French Toast entrees, $5.25 BLTs and $6.50 Cheeseburgers Deluxe with fries and onion rings can quiet even the surliest of rabble rousers.
There’s no room for shyness or reticence at Giannoni’s. If you want to have a quiet cup of fancy coffee and a bland muffin, go to Starbucks, where anonymity, souped up caffeinated drinks and empty carbs reign. But if you want a side of old school heart with your Cajun chicken sammy, step right up to Giannoni’s. He’s ready to take your order.
Giannoni’s Deli is located at 22 ½ Garth Road in Scarsdale and is open from 5:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from Monday through Saturday. Delivery and catering services are available. Contact (914) 472-4792 for more information.