Marco’s Deli, located across from LoRise on William Street until its closing in June 2013, used to be a convenient food stop for students. Middletown native Mark Sbona owned the deli for 18 years, beginning in 1995.
The Sbona family is familiar to many in Middletown: Mark’s brother, Bill, took over Central News on Main Street a few years before he opened Marco’s Deli, and his father, “Buddy,” served three terms as Mayor of Middletown and 20 years as city clerk, retiring in 1995.
Sbona now works at Public Market on Main Street, and the former Deli’s location will become Mama’s Italian Deli and Market, according to a sign in the window. I spoke on the phone with Sbona to talk about his experience running the deli.
The Argus: How did you wind up in Middletown prior to owning Marco’s Deli?
Mark Sbona: I’m a lifelong resident of Middletown. Kind of grew up in that area, too.
A: What prompted you to start a restaurant in Middletown?
MS: I was working for a construction company, and I was out of work at the time. The two people who owned the store [Marco’s Deli] I knew [from] my childhood, and they asked if I knew anybody who might be interested in taking over the store. I thought about it for a little while, and three months later, they helped me get started with the business. And that’s how I got there.
A: And who were the previous owners?
MS: The people that owned the place [then called Marino’s Market] when I was a kid were the Marino brothers, and I think they started in 1951. They retired in 1985, and then there were two ladies who ran the store from 1985 to 1995, and that’s when I came along.
A: What were some of the challenges of taking over the deli?
MS: The place had been closed for a while. The challenge was just to get people to come back in there. It was a struggle for a while. It took a couple of years to get going, so I kind of had to build the whole customer base again.
A: What did you enjoy most about owning the deli?
MS: It was the people. I met so many really wonderful people over the 18 years; it was a really nice way to make a living, meeting kids from all over the country and all the people at Wesleyan and in the neighborhood….It was a lot of fun, I’ll leave it at that. I met some characters.
A: You and your brother closed shop for good within a few weeks of each other this past June. Can you speak to what led both of your establishments to close and what you might have done differently, if anything?
MS: For me, it was just the circumstances. I didn’t own the building, and the building was in pretty rough shape, and it would have been a real big investment for me to stay there. At my age, I didn’t know if I wanted to do that…. If I’d owned the building, I probably would have stayed, but I didn’t.
As far as my brother, newspapers and magazines aren’t really popular anymore. There aren’t many stores like his left anymore. [He sold] newspapers, magazines, cigarettes, cigars, and between computers and taxes on cigarettes, that kind of sealed his fate.
A: What kinds of interactions did you have with students from the Wesleyan campus?
MS: Well, they were right across the street, at LoRise, and I had a lot of regular kids coming in. They’d come in two, three times a week, and as far as interaction, that was basically it. That’s how I knew a lot of these kids. A lot of them would come back after they graduated on reunion weekends, and stop in and say hello, and it was really nice. Made me feel good.
A: Anything else you’d like to add?
MS: I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everybody at the University, everybody who worked there, professors, Physical Plant guys, everybody around there, everybody in the neighborhood who supported me over the years. I wouldn’t have been able to stay there if it wasn’t for them, and I just wanted to say thank you to all of them, and I miss them all.