Vince Valenza is known as Vinnie to everyone that makes their way to Benton Park's Blues City Deli. The deli hosts customers ranging from neighborhood hipsters to young families to droves of construction workers, St. Louis City cops and firefighters.
What draws the eclectic crowd? Insanely good sandwiches, all served with smiles and genuine warmth. Blues City's range of sandwiches - from a NOLA muffaletta to a Chicago dog - is inspired by the Blues Highway, it also, fittingly, provides performance space for blues musicians. So where did the inspiration for the "blues" theme come from? "Blues music is very emotional and passionate, just like food. There's a common denominator here. I thought, let's meld the two and see what happens."
You're known as one of the nicest guys in the business - how do you remember everyone's name? A little bit of luck and lots of vitamins.
Did you ever think Blues City would be as incredibly popular as it is? No ... I'm amazed everyday to see the fine people that support the deli. We're so grateful.
What do you think it is that makes people such fans of the deli? We try to keep it simple and treat folks like they're visiting my home.
Where did the inspiration for the "blues" theme come from? Blues music is very emotional and passionate, just like food. There's a common denominator here. I thought, let's meld the two and see what happens.
What are some of your favorite moments running the deli? Every day is special. Just to see the customer enjoying their time in the deli, they seem to have a few minutes to relax, fill their belly and get away from it all. Also, we've had a few "blues legends" play at the deli on Thursday nights. Two special moments were when Kim Wilson and James Harman stepped onto the stage at the deli to a packed house with screaming fans. It's quite a sight to see. The customers that come to the deli for the live blues shows are fantastic!
How do you choose who will play live music? I feel like I know what type or style of blues that needs to be on the stage at the deli. I also have a few select folks that I brainstorm with. The decisions on who we choose to get on that stage are taken very seriously.
What's your favorite sandwich on the menu? The Valenza Special Muffuletta. It's the first sandwich I wanted to put on the menu when I started thinking about opening a place about 20 years ago.
You were one of the first guys to have "artisan" soda - what inspired you to offer more than basic soda fountain drinks? I remember as a kid going down to corner gas station and putting in a dime and getting a great root beer or grape soda, so I thought it would match up well with a good sandwich and hopefully continue to create new memories for our customers.
What do you think is the key to success in this industry? Keep things simple. Use quality ingredients. Don't cut corners. Respect your customers and your team.
How do you test and introduce new sandwiches? We test the potential sandwiches with our staff, brainstorm different ingredients and configurations and see at that point if it's going to go on special. Sometimes I'll actually go on Facebook and throw and idea out to my "friends" and get some really great ideas back. Have you heard of the Aporkalypse Pretzelwich? Our most popular special, [it] sort of came together with the help of a friend on Facebook and we did a contest to name the sandwich and a Facebook friend named it too!
What's in your fridge right now? Parmesan cheese, chicken breast, romaine, about 10 different mustards (I'm a mustard freak), lunch meat, peanut butter, leftover pork roast ...
Beer or wine? Micro beers and cheap red wine
Vanilla or chocolate? Fudge swirl!!!!!
Sweet or salty? Salty ... I love anchovies!
What's your favorite junk food? Red Hot Ripplets with green onion dip
Most memorable meal ever? My mom's beef spiedini. I've still got the recipe.
What was your favorite thing to eat growing up? My grandma, Angela Ceresia's homemade pizza made on her birthday every Christmas Eve.
What would be your last meal? A bacon, sausage and cheese pizza from Saullo's Pizzaria in North County, a slab of my dad's barbecued ribs and, oh yeah, a few slices of Valenti's Italian bread with some extra virgin olive oil. Dessert? Some lemon ice from Rosciglione Bakery. What a way to go!
Blues City Deli, 2438 McNair Ave., Benton Park, 314.773.8225, bluescitydeli.com