In the 1980s, Vinny Lamorte, owner and namesake of Vinny’s Deli in Pawling, was running a successful wholesale pasta business. The money was good, but something was missing for Lamorte. “I wasn’t crazy about the wholesale business, I’m more of a people person, I like to engage with people,” he recalls. When the opportunity arose, he bought a building in Pawling and opened up Vinny’s Deli. The specialty Italian deli will celebrate its 25th anniversary next March. Over the years, Lamorte’s store and his friendly New York City fugetaboutit personality have became staples of downtown Pawling. Lamorte’s culinary creations have earned acclaim and been featured on segments of “Live From Daryl’s House,” a free monthly webcast that was founded by Daryl Hall of the rock group Hall & Oats. Customers have also become hooked on the store’s sandwiches, catering dishes, specialty items and fresh store made mozzarella—especially the mozzarella.
“People come from all over for my handmade mozzarella It’s very successful,” he says. “I wholesale it to maybe 25 or 30 different restaurants and other delis.”
He adds, “We make it twice a day here in the summer time so its always fresh. I have people that have gone to Italy had mozzarella there and say mine is just as good if not better.”
It is not surprising that owning a deli and making Italian specialty items comes naturally to Lamorte considering food is pretty much in his blood. “I was born in Italy, I came to this country when I was six years old. We settled on Arthur Avenue in Little Italy in the Bronx. We lived there until I was about 12, then we relocated to Carmel where my older brothers opened up a deli. I worked there as a kid.” He says his family’s history owning a deli helped prepare him to open his own business. “Growing up in the business it makes it a lot easier than doing something blind,” he says.
In addition to the mozzarella, another specialty at the deli is Vinny Skinny Sauce, a fat free mayonnaise substitute that is a standard on the signature sandwich at the deli, The Garden Combo. Lamorte says he developed the sauce in the late 1980s. “When I first did it many years ago, people were on a health kick, you had fat-free mayonnaise,” says Lamorte. He explains that he got into healthy eating as well and recalls he would try fat-free mayonnaise on sandwiches but the flavor left something to be desired. “It just didn’t do it for me,” he says. He experimented and took a basic fat-free mayonnaise recipe and “I spiced it up with Mediterranean spices.”
At Vinny’s Deli it’s a true family affair. “I got my mother, my sister, my daughters, my brothers around to help me—even my wife helps me out. It’s pretty much a family business.”
That sense of family and community is a big part of the shop. Lamorte knows most customers by name. Newcomers are also welcomed, Lamorte says he can spot people coming to the deli for the first time by their body language, and he says he always makes sure to offer new customers a free sample of mozzarella.
Lamorte says that over the years he’s formed an extended family of past employees. “I have to say, without my employees I wouldn’t be where I am today, I have people who’ve worked for me, 10 years, 20 years. I don’t have too much employee turnover,” he says. He adds that he’s always stressed to his employees that school comes before work. “I’m very flexible, especially if it interferes with school. I’ve had employees that became doctors out of here and teachers. If I need help they’re always there for me, if I’m stuck they’ll come in a few days for me. It keeps that family thing going, whether it’s blood family or not, we tend to feel like a family here and customers sense that.” Freshgratedcheese.com