Alameda Business Buzz: Santoro's Italian Market & Deli

Alameda Business Buzz: Santoro's Italian Market & Deli

Janice Worthen
Santoro's

Photo by Janice Worthen.

On the corner of Santa Clara Avenue and Fifth Street sits a little deli that’s easy to miss, but its sandwiches — stuffed with a generous serving of meat on a wonderfully fragrant choice of breads — are hard to forget. Just take a step inside this classic corner eatery, and you’ll see why Santoro’s Italian Market & Deli is a neighborhood gem.

Regulars stop in daily and weekly, not only to get a delicious bite to eat but to catch up with owners Michele (Michael to customers) and Heidi Santoro, who opened the shop in 2010. It took the couple about eight months to convert what used to be a liquor store into their deli. Local mouths have been watering ever since.

“It was really a labor of love,” Heidi said. “We wanted it to be like a 1950s corner New York deli, the kind you don’t find much these days.”

The walls of the deli are covered with pictures from the couple’s life and history. Michele was born in Italy and moved to the U.S. when he was three years old. Heidi was raised in Livermore. The two met in Los Angeles where Michele was building celebrity houses with his brother’s construction business and Heidi was working as an assistant set decorator for the movie industry.

The couple decided to move to Alameda because they wanted a small town where they could raise a family. But for Heidi, the move was also a sort of homecoming: Her father lived in Alameda in the 1960s, and he worked here as an engineer.

One of the pictures on the deli’s wall shows President John F. Kennedy sitting in a car as Navy personnel salute him. After speaking with a neighbor, Heidi learned the picture’s origin. Her father had taken the picture himself on the Alameda Naval Air Station during JFK’s visit to the Island, in March 1962. In another photo, the Santoros’ two pugs, Phillip and Butters, are turning up the charm. Their happy faces encourage customers to relax and nom nom.

Heidi said their pictures lead to pleasant conversations with customers, most of whom the Santoros know by name. Heidi said their customers feel like family; they’re watching neighborhood kids grow up and have seen some of their Encinal High School student customers return as young adults.

The Santoros hope their deli is around for 100 years, and their passion for food that’s prepared with love just might get it there. The couple is so dedicated to the freshness of their food that the deli’s hours are dictated by it. The deli opens at 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. on Saturday, and it closes when the fresh bread — which comes daily from Semifreddi’s — is gone.

“We only use either Boar’s Head or imported meats and cheeses, cut fresh for each order, and we hand cut our vegetables each morning,” Heidi said.

Sandwiches are available on a variety of breads, including Dutch crunch. A variety of meats are available, and the deli also offers premium sandwiches for a little extra, including prosciutto, hot capicola and hot coppa, sopressata and more. Customers can also choose from a variety of drinks including beer and wine, buy meat by the pound, pick up snacks, order party trays, and request catering. Heidi said it’s best to call sandwich orders in ahead of time, which allows customers to save a favorite bread and avoid a wait when the deli is busy.

“We love what we do, we love Alameda and we really love good food and the memories it creates for people,” Heidi said.

475 Santa Clara Avenue; 217-8710.

Around Town

Alameda South Shore Center: Pinot’s Palette will celebrate its grand opening on August 15. Participants will be painting the Starry Night over the Gate. The cost is $49 per painter. You can reserve a seat and learn about upcoming classes at www.pinotspalette.com/alameda. 2210 D South Shore Center; (630) 765-0008.

Downtown Alameda: It’s July, and that means it’s time for Park Street’s 31st Annual Art and Wine Faire. This Alameda favorite will take place on July 25 and 26, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. You can shop at more than 200 arts and crafts booths, snag your favorite summer food from the many food vendors who will be attending while enjoying music from two stages – and let the kids enjoy the petting zoo, bounce house and more while you sip your beer, wine, or mimosa. Free bike parking will be available in the parking lot of Alameda Bicycle.

It looks like authentic Ethiopian cuisine will be coming soon to Park Street. Injera Restaurant will be opening at 1305 Park Street.

Mama Papa Lithuania Restaurant and Tea House will be opening a bakery next door to their restaurant. Owner Vaidas Sukys said the bakery should open in September if everything goes smoothly. It will offer a variety of Lithuanian-style pastries that are hard to find in the Bay Area, including star-shaped cookies, apple in the handkerchiefs, mushroom-shaped cookies with chocolate caps and friendship pie. Sukys said more items will be added as they develop the bakery’s menu.

One of the bakery’s main offerings will be cake. In fact, Sukys said cakes are the restaurant’s specialty, and they will be made with as many natural, organic ingredients and as few preservatives as possible. Customers will be able to order them for special occasions and can have cakes custom made. The restaurant’s most popular dessert, honey cake, will also be available, as will another customer favorite, Lithuanian fried amber rye bread, which Sukys said is “slightly pan fried in oil and rubbed with real garlic.”

The restaurant has been open since 2013, and Sukys said business has been great. If you can’t wait until September, the restaurant does offer a few desserts: honey cake “medutis,” “lazy pie” and sweet dumplings with cherries. The restaurant also serves Lithuanian beer and a large variety of herbal teas. If you want to check out their menu, visit www.mamapapalithuania.com. 1241 Park Street; 522-4100. The bakery address will be 1239 Park Street.

Alameda Island Brewing Company is now hiring. They’re looking for an assistant brewer and warehouse person who can help with deliveries. They also need help with pouring in the tasting room. Previous brewery or home brewing experience and cicerone certification is encouraged. You can send your resume to alamedaislandbc@gmail.com. 1716 Park Street.

Urban Island Home Furnishings is closing. Their last day is July 24, and they will be holding sales throughout July to clear out their inventory. 1901 Broadway; 227-5473.

West Alameda: The 19th Annual Meals on Wheels Community Faire & Wine Tasting fundraiser will be held at Rock Wall Wine Company on July 19 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The cost of entry is $20, and guests will enjoy hors d’oeuvres from local restaurants, wine tastings from a variety of wineries, Zinfandel ice cream from Tuckers and swing and jazz music by Three O’Clock Jump. There will also be an outdoor play area for children and a silent auction featuring wines, gift baskets and vacation getaways. 2301 Monarch Street; for silent auction donations, e-mail mowfundraiser@aol.com.

If you haven’t been by Ploughshares Nursery in a while, there’s a lot going on. Butterflies will be released in a newly constructed butterfly house this month (date to be determined), orchard trees are bearing fruit and are ready to be planted and free July workshops are underway, including one at noon Saturday titled “All about Summertime Fruit Tree Care.”

Ploughshares is also partnering with the Oakland Zoo to help the Oakland Zoo Education Center make upgrades to its garden courtyard.

To learn more about Ploughshares, visit www.ploughsharesnursery.com. Signing up for the newsletter is the best way to stay up to date and to find out about special offers.

2701 Main Street; 755-1102.