WALDWICK, N.J. — The Italian Riviera , Waldwick’s very own Arthur Avenue-style deli, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
Co-owner Michael Mucci of Franklin Lakes knows its recipe for success, too: the food, the people.
In fact, its founders, Paul and Mary Ann Scardino of Westwood, still work there.
Yes, they sold it to Michael, and his wife Michelle, 16 years ago.
But they got an invitation to keep making the sausage, the mozzarella and the soups. So they did.
“I told Paul, ‘Let’s keep our hands busy,’” Mary Ann Scardino said this week as she chopped celery for yet another batch of soup.
The place is known for its soups, including the classic pasta fagioli and chicken noodle. At least six different ones are offered daily.
If customers request a certain flavor of soup, it’ll be offered two days later. That’s just the kind of place Italian Riviera is.
The staff also includes Siobhan Troya of Wyckoff, who has worked there 30 years, and Manager Eddie Thomas of Waldwick, who arrived for a job as a junior in high school and never left.
“Eddie is my main man,” Mucci said. “He’s the reason I can take a vacation and not worry.”
Italian Riviera opened Jan. 1, 1967.
At the time Waldwick was the perfect place for an Italian deli: It was home to many Italians who built the railroad in town, Scardino said. It also was surrounded by affluent towns.
Back in the day, Scardino’s partner was Ralph Apuzzo, a master cheesemaker from Vico Equense in Naples whose family has made cheeses for more than a century.
“I learned from the very best,” Scardino said.
He has shared the secrets with Michael Mucci, who comes from a line of food entrepreneurs in his own right.
His grandfather, Settimio Mucci, opened Mucci’s Coffee Shop on Main Street in Hackensack in 1952 and passed it to his son, Bob.
“I spent my summers there washing dishes and flipping burgers for my dad,” Mucci recalled.
“After school I’d go to the restaurant, do my homework and then go into the kitchen and help clean up for the night.”
After that, Mucci entered the restaurant field. For years.
Until the Italian Riviera came along.
At first, the deli presented him and Michelle with a learning curve. But the Scardinos helped. A lot.
“Paul and Mary Ann have been a second mom and dad to me as far as nurturing,” Mucci recalled.
He said Paul gave him a piece of advice that has made all the difference in running the East Prospect Street deli: “No matter what happens, keep the place Italian.”
Mucci certainly has. The Italian hero — featuring ham, salami, pepperoni, and provolone, plus the customer’s topping of choice – is one of Italian Riviera’s best sellers.
So are the soups and fried eggplant cutlets.
Also popular: the personal touch that has characterized the deli from the start.
“We know our customers by first name,” Mucci said. “And we know what they’re going to have before they even order it.”