MERIDEN — Stick around Paul’s Deli long enough on a Thursday and you’re bound to run into some regulars.
Around noon, North End Auto Parts owner Eric Berndt comes in for lunch. Almost 12:30 on the dot George Musgrave will come by to pick up lunch for his office, or soup for him and his wife.
And in the kitchen, owner Paul Dominello’s 89-year-old uncle can probably be found enjoying the staff’s company.
As of this November, Dominello has owned the deli market for 40 years. Although what he sells has changed, the old-fashioned community atmosphere that was cultivated long before him still lives on.
People have to go out of their way most of the time to get to the deli at 154 N. Wall St., which sits in the middle of a residential neighborhood, around the corner from Nathan Hale Elementary School.
Paul Dominello prides himself on offering customers purely good food and good service. While he says large supermarkets have forced evolution, the personal touch and customer appreciation he shows cannot be replicated.
“The big stores affected the small grocery stores. They changed the futures of a lot of people that probably would have been in it,” he said. He credits his own persistence and passion for keeping his going, as well as immense support from family and friends.
His family is not the only one that’s built a life around the small market deli. For people who have grown up in Meriden or worked for years here, stopping by Paul’s is just the normal routine.
Berndt has been coming to the deli for 30 years, since he was 10 years old; George has come for 45 years- even before Paul Dominello took over the market from his uncle Matthew Dominello, the one that’s still at the deli a few times a week.
“I come up here all the time,” Musgrave said on his Thursday run. Musgrave has worked in Meriden for almost 50 years.
He’s usually there for lunch three or four days a week, and Paul’s has catered for him too. He loves the soups- especially bacon corn chowder- and remarked that you can tell they’re homemade because they’re a little different every week.
With excitement, Paul Dominello showed off a Record-Journal photo of he and Musgrave from 2005, when the deli celebrated its 20 year anniversary. Musgrave can be seen waiting to be ringed out by Paul Dominello at the cashier counter, not unlike Thursday’s visit.
RJ file photo - Paul Dominello rings out customer George Musgrave in his newly redecorated Paul's Deli and Catering Co. at 154 North Wall Street in Meriden Thursday afternoon May 26, 2005.
When Paul Dominello took over the deli market in 1979, his uncle had been running it primarily as a meat market and small grocery store. Matthew Dominello had owned the store for about 14 years before health issues caused him to take a break. He still comes into the deli to help fill meat orders every Christmas and to visit almost daily.
“I'm very proud of him,” Matthew Dominello said Thursday. “I'm glad that he took over from me because it keeps the name rolling.”
When he took over the business, Paul Dominello was 23-years-old. Even in his early 20s, Dominello wasn’t intimidated by running the business. He had grown up in the food grocery industry, working for his other uncle’s store, and felt completely “trained and seasoned.”
He also felt that youth was on his side when it came to bringing the business into the next decade.
“I took it over from my uncle as a meat market, but at the same time I saw what was coming in my own way, and catering was where I wanted to take it,” Paul Dominello said.
A few years in he started catering for friends, a habit that began a central part of his business. The grocery part of the store lapsed in the meantime, as large grocery stores could offer way more inventory.
As Dominello has survived over the decades, he’s watched other market delis close around him. Sometimes the owners just aged out and had no one to take their business over, but a lot of times it was the crush of large supermarkets that pushed them out.
Dominello has been open to changing with the times, for the most part. The one thing he’s yet to adopt is a computer. He got a smartphone just a few years ago, and has started emailing a little, but still writes checks and his daily specials out by hand, which get faxed to about 60 businesses every day.
“Now it's become like a game to see if I can go without,” Paul Dominello said. “Sometimes you leave well enough alone.”
He won’t start working with a delivery app service, but he has adopted other modern ways to stay relevant, like making a Facebook page and having a digital-screen credit card reader. He said he’s relied on his three children and wife to help usher in new practices.
All in all, Paul Dominello is proud to have made it this far, thanks to great customers.
“I'm celebrating 40 years of being in business, but I'm also celebrating 40 years of people wanting to come to my business, to keep me open for 40 years,” he said.