By Max Cohan SYRACUSE, NY (NCC NEWS)–Every town has a deli. Sandwiches, soups and salads draw in customers. Some places have specialty sandwiches and party platters, wings and pizza. These are all things that most deli’s have in common.
Then there is the Village Deli in East Syracuse. A place that has been continuously owned and operated by Wayne Cunningham for nearly 40 years. The Village Deli has all the classic deli qualities; sandwiches, potato chips, assorted desserts. But the one thing that differentiates it from all other deli’s is Wayne.
Wayne Cunningham never planned on running the deli full time. Cunningham opened a sandwich shop out of a converted gas station in 1977, hoping just do some part time work. He developed a deep love for the deli and eventually had to make a decision about his full time job.
“I went home one afternoon and talked to my wife and she said you know what, you love the deli so why don’t you quit your job. And that’s what I did. I have not regretted it a bit, I mean i’ve loved every minute of it,” Cunningham said. “I love my customers, I love getting involved in the community. It’s just been a joy.”
The Village Deli has become a cornerstone of the East Syracuse community. But Wayne said that when he moved into the store he knew nothing. He had to figure everything out on his own through trial and error. He said that if someone came in asking for something new, they made it.
Wayne still makes many of the sandwiches himself, conversing with customers all the while. He said it is the customers that make his work worth it.
“I truly love my customers. I mean it’s not just a facade. I mean I really, really, truly love my customers. It’s relationships that you develop over the years. It’s not something that happens instantaneously,” Cunningham said.
But one of Cunningham’s recent moves has customers upset. Cunningham put his deli up for sale. After more than 40 years behind the counter, Cunningham feels that it’s better for him to walk away from the deli when he can, rather than wake up one morning and realize he needs to sell it. At 72, Cunningham said his age is one of the major factors behind his decision. Still, customers aren’t ready to let go.
“I had a guy come in this morning and he said you can’t sell the deli. And I said Greg, it’s for sale. And he said you can’t sell it, where am I gonna go to eat?”
Cunningham said that there has been a lot of interest from people considering buying the deli, yet nothing has transpired yet. Still, he knows a time will come when someone else is cutting meat and spreading joy to customers.
“I hope that whoever does come in here, that my customers give them a chance,” Cunningham said emotionally.
In retirement, Cunningham said he plans to spend time renovating his various properties and playing lots of golf.