In 1978 two best friends from Islip opened up the West Side Deli in East Quogue.
The tenor of their friendship permeated into the very character of their business. Donald Maiori and John Gilday made it their mantra that, “every customer counts and is to be treated like a customer.”
In the window is a sign that reads, “free advice,” and Donald Maiori is capable of giving you advice in his affable way that will make you smile. While John Gilday has had a wonderful career at Longwood High School, in Yaphank, Donald has held classes daily at the deli.
Besides serving choice sandwiches, chicken salads, hot Italian foods, West Side Deli is so much more, it is the personification of small town America, where the personal level is not lost, but amplified.
Donald is a people person, who is not afraid to peel the skin to get to what’s on your mind that day.
He recalls the history of his 34 years of working at the same location in East Quogue. “I watched this area go from a huge party town to a bedroom community,” he said. Jokingly he describes the Hamptons as, "the most wonderful place in the whole Northeast, Custer’s last stand. And this deli is the last of the Mohicans.”
Donald also had run a deli in Bridgehampton back in the early '80s, which was called “Famous Zhivagos.” He called the 1980s the Wild West era of the Hamptons. “It was a fun time, people were looser, and everyone seemed to have more a sense of humor.”
He describes the last 34 years in three major cycles, “The baby boomers, the yuppies and now the Wall Street era. The difference of each era is like day and night,” laughingly he said that back in the '80s “this whole area rocked.”
Having bought the building the in which the West Side Deli is located, 690 Montauk Highway (Main Street) in East Quogue, back in 1985, Donald is not under the pressure of increased rents every five years but does see increased competition. However, his biggest asset may actually be him. Donald Maiori is an original, a character, the real thing.
He explained that West Side Deli was opened and run by Joe Wallen from 1960 to 1970 when it was sold to Kerry Williams who ran it and owned it from 1970 through 1974. Then ownership was taken over by Betty Buckley who ran it for four years before Donald and John took over in 1978, this year marks thirty years of their stewardship. Donald’s wife Eileen is an assistant principal and he has two daughters, with his youngest being Sammy a junior at the University of Delaware who helps out during the summers.
Donald proudly says, “I work so I have someplace to go every day.” He has watched East Quogue grow from, “Around 1,200 full time people to 4,000.”
He says that it’s a shame that the rentals have given way to full time owners, because the renters were better for the local economy. He laments that to today’s crowd East Quogue isn’t even considered the Hamptons, “It’s like the canal separates two worlds, a division of the canals. The town closed the beach bars, made it harder to have summer rentals, turned East Quogue into a bedroom community, when now it's like the best kept secret, beautiful farm landscapes and of course the ocean.”
It’s true back in the 1960s the most famous couple in the world Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor brought all of their crowd out to Quogue. The quaintness of the greater Quogue area they loved is still genuine and unspoiled.
As for the West Side Deli it is an eclectic collection of signs, statues, with even a Mike Piazza wobble head doll. One sign says, “Slower minds to the left.”
A poster of North Fork resident Albert Einstein quotes the great Einstein saying, “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”
In honor of good friend John Linguiti, Donald named a sandwich, the “Johnny Ling, all meat, no eggs.” It seems one morning Mr. Linguiti was in a big hurry.
It's that kind of humor, honor, integrity that sums up a the world West Side Deli evolved from. It's personal, it’s up front down home real, it is what makes you want to keep going back to get your same lunch sandwich, cigar, quick cold drink or other snacks.
The world is changing, the Hamptons are changing but Donald Maiori will never change. His friendship that started in 1964 with partner John Gilday is just a small window into the character Donald Maiori has and the character he truly is. His daughter looked at him with a pride that alone tells you what kind of man Donald is. That’s why it’s so worth the time to visit him at the West Side Deli.
Open seven days a week, from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. 631-653-6343