THE EARLY YEARS (1949-1980)
Teresa’s Italian Deli was founded on the corner of 22nd and Brown Avenue in Erie, Pennsylvania in 1949. Long before the days of supermarkets it was the mom and pop corner stores that provided the groceries that filled neighborhood cupboards. While the grown ups were stocking up on fresh baked bread, cookies, groceries, cold cuts, and cheeses, it was the famous penny candy that kept all of the neighborhood children coming back to Teresa’s with pocketfuls of nickels. In 1953, business was flourishing. It was doing so well that the landlord declined to renew the lease in hopes that he would be equally successful in running a grocery store of his own. As a result, Teresa Dicarlo Szumigala and her husband Ben purchased the corner of 32nd and Greengarden Blvd. and set up shop there on January 6th of 1954.Over the next 25 years many things changed with respect to the neighborhood. All the roads west of Greengarden that were once dirt were paved. Acres of woods that once dominated the scenery became houses filled with new families. In contrast to all the changes occurring outside the walls of Teresa’s Deli, little changed within. Whether folks would come in for a pint of milk, bread, cookies, penny candies or just the camaraderie, the neighborhood was brought together under one roof. That’s how it worked back then. It was a reflection of the times. The 70’s were coming to an end though and after a 31 year run, Teresa’s Deli was about to undergo some significant changes.
A TWIST OF FATE (1980-2002)
The early 80’s brought new, larger grocery stores to Erie. Supermarkets were bringing corner grocery stores to their knees. Teresa’s Deli was sharing the same fate as many other shops across the nation. Teresa had passed, Ben Sr. was ready to retire and business was slow. In came the man who spent his youth conning his cousins into work while he would skip out to play cards. Teresa and Ben’s only son Benny took over the reigns in 1981. With a personality that was definitely unique in its own right and a little innovation, he breathed new life into a struggling corner grocery store.
Lunchmeat and bread had become the primary trade. Once you would get to the end of a stick of salami or cheese you couldn’t sell it to the customer. Nobody wanted it. Rather than being wasteful they would slice up the ends and put them on the fresh bread that they had baked earlier that morning and sell it as a sub. From that point forward the transformation occurred and the take out business was born. Benny’s personality and the traditional, old country work ethic of his wife Mary, mother in law Phyllis, Kris the Greek, and Mary Sementelli, proved to be the perfect combination. Teresa’s Deli was back.
In the mid 1980’s Teresa’s catering service took off. It took two Riazzis, two Valerios, and two Pizzos to put together one of the best smelling kitchens in all of Pennsylvania. One graduation party followed by a little word of mouth turned Teresa’s into one of Erie’s top caterers with virtually no multi media advertising. To this day they rarely advertise. The success and growth of their catering relies solely on the satisfaction of those who try their food and recommend their services to others. It sounds a little old fashioned, but what could be a better measure of success than the satisfaction of those who trust you to feed them and their guests. Teresa’s Italian Deli became recognized by the entire area over the next twenty years and was about to get bigger.
THE THIRD GENERATION (2002-present)
On a frigid February day in 2001 Benny and his son were delivering an order to the East side of Erie when his son noticed a vacant building on 38th Street just East of Pine Ave. He suggested to his father that it might be a good idea to expand. Benny responded with a simple, “Absolutely not. I’m happy with what I’ve got. I’m 57 years old and I’m getting ready to retire.” Fresh out of college and full of ambition Ben III did what any other son would do. He recruited his mother and sister and opened one anyways. In July of 2002 our loyal eastside residents who would travel all the way across town to get our “one of a kind” sandwiches now had a little less distance to travel. A third generation is now implementing a concept that has strayed little from its roots back in 1949.
Most of the original Greengarden customers have passed on but the few that remain still stop in occasionally with priceless stories to tell. The children who have now grown into adults still come by and reminisce about all of the penny candies they adored while they were growing up. Now it’s their children and grandchildren that indulge themselves with a sweet treat. In time, maybe they too will return with a story to tell. As it surpasses its 64th year of serving the area Teresa’s Italian Deli, its entire staff, and the Szumigala family would like to take this opportunity to thank the Erie area residents and all of the loyal families that have been with them for so long. You are all a part of their family and they have taken the pleasure of serving you for over six decades.
Click HERE to Read a Letter From
Robert Maxham, Lynchburg, Virginia
A lifelong customer of Teresa’s Deli.
We cannot thank you enough for such a wonderfully written letter.