Dave Cozzie, the owner of Cozzie's NY Deli, stands at the counter as he prepares to close in response to the outbreak of coronavirus. (Jake Thomas/Salem Reporter)
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Dave Cozzie opened the doors to Cozzie’s NY Deli at Wednesday morning. Hours later, he turned the lights out on a dream.
For nearly six years, he has served pastrami, Rueben and caprese sandwiches and other staples typically found in New York delis at his restaurant at 3723 Fairview Industrial Dr. S.E. #110.
The restrictions imposed by state order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus proved too much to overcome.
Starting the eatery with his wife, Deb, had been a dream for Cozzie, who frequented New York delis while working as an audio engineer in the recording industry for 11 years. He recalled delis stocked with meats and cheeses for sale by the pound as well as “wedges” and other sandwiches unique to the East Coast.
“I’ve lived off delis forever and when I came out here I wanted to show Oregon what a real deli is,” he said. “And I did that and people love it.”
Over the years, Cozzie said he mastered the chicken cutlet sandwich, with a breaded and pan-fried cutlet. He said the sandwich became a favorite. The pastrami made with his own corn beef has also been popular, as well as the Gabagool, a sandwich made of Cappicola, Genoa salami and mortadella.
“I get people from Queens, I get people from Brooklyn coming out to visit and saying, ‘this here is the real deal,’” he said.
Originally from Helena, Mont., Cozzie moved to the East Coast before eventually following a love interest to Salem and deciding to stay and open the deli.
The deli saw glowing reviews and won awards. Cozzie said he’s proudly catered for the National Guard, Salem Police and Fire Departments.
But limited by governor’s order to only take-out service and with more customers staying home, Cozzie said that the 150 sandwiches he usually sold in a day dropped to a third.
Cozzie announced on social media Tuesday that he was shutting down and urged people to come help clear out his stock. He would join other Salem restaurants that tried to keep going despite the changed circumstances but found they couldn’t.
On his last hours in business, Cozzie expected to spend the day at his desk before closing early at 2 p.m. Instead, he arrived that morning to a stack of orders waiting. The deli was slammed with customers - only eight at a time were let in - hungry for sandwiches or wanting to help clear his inventory by buying pounds of meat and cheese. He found himself behind a slicer for most of day while greeting customers from a window in the kitchen.
By around midday, the deli had nearly sold out. The shelves that once held loaded baked potatoes and macaroni were empty. The deli was out of nearly everything but Reuben sandwiches, which were only available with American or pepper jack cheese instead of Swiss.
Will Painter said he was on his way home to Dallas from his IT job when he heard that the deli he eats at regularly was closing and figured he would stop by to give support to struggling business.
“It’s a sight you see all over,” he said, of closed businesses.
Danae Schuck, who works at a company in the business park the deli is nested in, stopped by to see if she could get some of its bleu cheese mayo before it closed.
“I could put it on a shoe and eat the shoe,” said Deb Cozzie, handing a container of the spread to her.
“Me too,” said Schuck.
By the end of the day, the tip jar was full of cash, including $5 and $10 bills. The Cozzies and their crew of three turned to cleaning the deli for its closure. Deb Cozzie’s nose was red from crying. She said that starting the deli had been a “leap of faith” that worked out.
Dave Cozzie has a state government job and Deb Cozzie works as business manager while running the deli on the side with the help of staff.
The Cozzies both have day jobs and expect to be fine but are concerned for their employees. Dave Cozzie said that he can maintain the deli location for 45 days and possibly 60 if he taps into personal finances.
“Anything after that, I’m gonna have to walk away,” he said.
While the future of businesses like Cozzie’s NY Deli are uncertain, Cozzie said he’s proud of how Salem has pulled together during the crisis.
“There are so many awesome people in Salem,” he said.
Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or firstname.lastname@example.org or @jakethomas2009.