April 1, 1972 was the day Major League Baseball went on its first strike, “The Godfather” played in movie theaters, and family-owned Ann Clair’s Salumeria opened for business on Morris Park Avenue. Forty years later, that deli is still in the hands of the original family.
To celebrate its milestone as the most seasoned deli on the block, the owners have planned a belated birthday bash on Saturday, April 28, complete with giveaways, games, carnival treats and bouncy castles for the kids. It’ll happen from noon to 3 p.m. in front of the deli at 1130 Morris Park Avenue.
“My father would always joke the opening was like an April Fool’s joke because it was so slow,” said Jimmy King, a bulky man and heir of the family-owned business started by his father Henry.
Jimmy and his sister Sharon run the day-to-day operations of the store, named after their aunt Ann and their mother Clair.
On any given day, one can see the deli is a hive of activity, particularly during lunchtime. Construction crews, MTA workers and Jacobi Hospital staff (the deli’s bread and butter) take a break by the dining area. Deli workers slice quality meat, a clerk rings up orders. Customers notice that the place is not only a salumeria but venerable shrine devoted to the King family legacy. Old photos of the King kin hang on the walls.
“My dad’s the picture hanger,” said Jimmy, who started in an unusual position despite his stature as the son of a deli owner.
“Cleaning the walls,” recalled Jimmy’s first responsibility with a touch of humility.
To anyone living in the Morris Park community, Ann Clair’s has been a name linked to what customers call “delicious food.”
“I would come here even if I didn’t live in Morris Park,” said Sally Quigley.
The store opened with little to no fanfare.
“It took a long time to kick off,” said Jimmy.
As the years progressed, Jimmy’s dad poured 14-hour days into the business on the hopes of turning the deli into a household name, at least in Morris Park. As Henry labored along the deli, Jimmy witnessed his dad’s undying dedication to the success of the store.
“That’s probably why I wanted to take over,” said Jimmy.
He learned every aspect of the trade, from managing staff to learning how to prepare the deli’s signature delicatessen--freshly made mozzarella and various Italian sausages.
In 1997, Jimmy officially became owner of Ann Clair’s, inheriting a store that stood its ground. Since then Jimmy has been entirely visible at the store, working at the front-end with his deli cutters and manager Adrian “Brian” Campo, who’s treated like a member of the family.
“Any occasion, any birthday, we hang out,” said Campo.
Jimmy’s visibility became so prevalent around his deli it stretched beyond US borders.
“I haven’t gone on a vacation that someone hasn’t recognized me,” said Jimmy, whose vacations to the Bahamas usually come with an unexpected greeting from a past customer who happened to be vacationing there also.
“It’s weird, I walked into Disney World and someone’s yelling out, ‘can I have a godmother,” said Jimmy.
As the second generation of Ann Clair’s continues its run, Jimmy is already thinking about the future.
“I hope my son can one day take it over,” said Jimmy.
To reach reporter David Cruz call 718-742-3383 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.