One immediately notices the creative sandwich names at Andy’s Deli posted over the deli counter like a marquee: Fat Boy, Fat Girl, Grand Central, Lindy’s Special, 82nd Street, By the Sea, Southern Belle, Slim Jim, Plumbers Helper, Northern Boulevard, and so on. And then there is the smell of food cooking in the kitchen, whether it is the corn beef or chicken cutlets or meat loaf or london broil or some other magnificent culinary creation that awakens and entices the senses.
Andy’s Deli is a Middle Village institution and arguably one of the most popular in Queens. It is not unusual to see the long lines of hungry patrons waiting patiently to order their favorite sandwich or dish. Brian Victor is the owner of Andy’s Deli and oversees its daily operation. He has dedicated his life to making it as successful as it can be. Brian is 52 years-old, single, and lives in Middle Village with his 16 year-old son. Brian is no stranger to hard work, often working eighty hours a week or more. Although we see him all the time managing and lending his particular form of expertise behind the counter, we know little about him. This interview was conducted on a Sunday afternoon in the kitchen of Andy’s Deli.
Q: Your counter people seem to stay with you a long time. What do you do to inspire such loyalty?
A: Pay them. (Laughs). I pay them well and treat them well and with respect.
Q: I often have to wait on a long line to give my order. Why do you think your deli is so popular? What is the secret to your success? What do you do that other delis don’t?
A: It’s my big smile and effervescent personality! (Laughs). Basically, we keep the place clean and the food fresh and we try to treat everybody fairly and we’re honest about everything to everybody. We also cook a lot of the food here, which a lot of the other delis don’t do anymore. They cut corners and buy stuff elsewhere, like potato salad; we try to cook as much as we can here. And if a customer asks me “did you make it here?” and I didn’t make it here, like the Italian Wedding Soup we offer, I’ll tell them I bought it and had it brought in. But most of the other stuff we make, like our Beef Barley Soup.
Q:What sandwich or dish is your biggest seller?
A: Probably the sauerbraten or the beef roulade. And the most popular sandwich would probably be The Fat Boy, the roast beef with the melted mozzarella on toasted garlic bread.
Q:What is your personal favorite sandwich and dish?
A: Virginia Ham Special.
Q: Can you tell me something about the chef in the back? My wife claims he has been there forever. How does he create recipes and keep up with the trends?
A: His name is Doro Canacheu and he’s originally from Romania. He’s been cooking at Andy’s Deli for twenty years. He’s in charge of the cooking, does all the specials and the recipes. Everyone else does the stock work. And the recipes came with the store. I bought them when I took over the deli. The recipes were traditional, and you don’t want to change success if they were successful before. The recipes are pretty much the same as they’ve been for a long time. We don’t really make too much new stuff because we’re a German style deli and we’re traditional, and we’d like to stay that way so that people know what to expect. We do wraps, which is probably the newest thing in the last ten years, but other than that we’re traditional and we’d like to stay that way.
Q: The Andy’s Deli Tuna Salad is sensational. It’s unlike any tuna salad I have tasted. My family and I buy it every time we visit your deli. What do you do that is different? What’s the secret?
A: I don’t know what you’re talkin’ about (Laughs). All kidding aside we use the same tuna, which is more expensive, and we use the best ingredients, and we take the time to carefully prepare it and it comes out great.
Q: Who named the sandwiches?
A: Some of them were named before like The Fat Boy, The Fat Girl, The Little Devils, but the rest of them I chose names from the community, sandwiches named after the local streets, parks, roads, things like that.
Q:What is the biggest obstacle or difficulty in running your business?
A: It’s time consuming. Its tough balancing work, working all those hours and being with your family. And the other obstacle is finding good workers. It’s hard to find good people. And when I find somebody who is good and helpful, I take care of them and they stay, but I could always use more of them.
Q: And what is the greatest reward?
A: Just having a place in the community. Just knowing that I’m the guy who is contributing to the community with my deli. And it’s also nice getting to know all the people and talking to them whenever they come in.
Q: What word of advice would you give an individual starting a small business for the first time?
A: Make sure you know enough about the business before you start and then give it your all.
Q: Is there anything you think the government can or should do to make it easier for small businesses like yours succeed?
A: I don’t think there is anything they should do. I think it is all up to the individual business owner whether he succeeds or not.
Q: What is the most unusual request from a customer?
A: A customer ordered a tuna and peanut butter on a toasted cinnamon bagel. I’m not sure how it tasted, but that’s what he wanted.
Q: What is the funniest moment you’ve experienced in Andy’s Deli?.
A: We had this nice kid working here and one Sunday morning a man came in and ordered bagels with cream cheese and asked if we had lox? The kid said, “we don’t have it here, but I think you can get it at Harry’s Hardware.”
Q: What would we be surprised to know about you?
A: I like gardening.
Q: Finally, is there anything you would like to say to your customers?
A: Just thanks for patronizing my deli, and that we’re not perfect and we make mistakes, but we always try our best.
Thank you, Brian.