With a national sub franchise on one side and a pizza joint on the other, you might think a little Italian deli like would have a hard time staying in business.
But one look at the line around lunchtime, and one attempt at eating one of their signature subs in one sitting, and it doesn’t take long to recognize why this East Bay Drive shop has been in business for 23 years and counting.
“I’ve been to places, you open the sandwich and you see two slices of cheese, two slices of meat, some lettuce and tomato, and that’s it,” owner Fernando Stanganelli relates. “Here we don’t do that. I’d rather see more, not less.”
In fact, Stanganelli, who opened Cesarina’s in 1990 after moving here from New York and spending several years in the insurance industry, says they don’t use a scale to weigh a sandwich, instead relying on an old-fashioned method to decide when it’s done.
“We’ll pick up a sandwich, and if it doesn’t feel right, we’ll unwrap it right there and add more meat to it,” he says. “I know I’m not going to go to a place that sells a small sandwich, so why should they?”
Giant subs built on homemade bread aren’t the only reason to come to Cesarina’s, named after Fernando’s wife, whom he met on a trip back to Italy and who is the mastermind behind the eatery’s authentic menu items.
In addition to sandwiches, the deli sells a wide variety of Italian dishes such as lasagna, manicotti, ravioli and eggplant parmigiana. Cases filled with meats, salads and desserts line the right hand side of the shop, and the aisles are stocked with dry foods like pastas, oils, spices and pastes.
The food has a distinct flavor that Stanganelli attributes to his and Cesarina’s southern Italian roots.
“Our food is more southern Italian than northern,” Fernando says. “We use different spices, different gravy (sauce). They’re not your typical blends, not the same as other places might use.”
But the Stanganellis know that in order to be successful and stay in business as long as they have, you need to offer more than just tasty, unique menu items.
“To be honest. it’s the quality of the food, the quantity of the food and the service,” Stanganelli said.
“It’s the personal touch with the food and the people both that bring things together,” Cesarina adds. “We’ve been here 23 years, so we must be doing something good.”
Cesarina's Italian Deli & Bakery
Address: 2575 East Bay Drive
Hours: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Saturday, closed Sunday