Savoring Memories: DiBlasis’ reflections cook up the right recipe for retirement

By on August 10, 2016

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Why stay in business in the same place in one small town for more than four decades?

A conversation with Sam and Callie DiBlasi of Denver will quickly — and repeatedly — provide the answer.

“It’s all about the people,” the spouses responded maybe 100 times as they reflected back over their 42 years in business and their many customers, who are now friends, during a Ephrata Review interview Thursday. It was one of the last days open for the iconic and hugely popular DiBlasi Sandwich Shop at 328 Main St. in the borough.

It is apparent the feeling is mutual as customers have turned out in such large numbers that Sam said: “We’ve been so busy, my mind is blank. I thought we’d be busy the last week we’re open, Aug. 17 to 20. Our rush started last Wednesday, July 27, and hasn’t let up.”

Customers lined up from the order counter located at one end of the restaurant, to the entrance door coming in off Main Street at the other end of the restaurant every day at lunchtime and well into the afternoon.

“We’re also overwhelmed with all the comments on Facebook from friends, former employees, and people who moved out of the area and still maintain their Denver connection,” Sam said.

“Several former employees whose first job was here said that we taught them work ethics.”

How did this young Berks County couple come to purchase Weaver’s Sandwich Shop from Darlene and the late Joe Weaver in 1974?

“Oh,” Sam said before continuing, “Darlene stopped in yesterday with her family to see us when she heard the news that we’re closing.”

Many locals recall that the site was an American Grocery Store for years prior to the Weaver’s sandwich shop. They didn’t have it very long when Darlene’s husband died and she wanted to sell.

“My dad golfed at Galen Hall with the late Denver resident Luther Knerr whose wife, Helen, recently died,” said Sam. “Many folks remember Knerr was a major league baseball player with the Philadelphia Athletics team.

“One day my father was driving to Lancaster and stopped at the garage that was located on Route 272 next to the former Zinn’s Diner, where Knerr worked.

Knerr asked Dad how his son was doing, and Dad said I wanted to open a sandwich shop and was looking for a site. Knerr said he knew of a site that was available in Denver.”

Callie said that a lot happened in a short time 42 years ago.

“We moved to Denver in 1974 and opened July 5, 1974,” she said. “We’ve never looked back. We have so many good friends. The community is a great place to raise a family. The Cocalico School District is excellent and our daughter, Trish, was well prepared when she went to Albright College and earned her degree in secondary English.

“When students worked for us we’d always find a place for them when home on college break. When some of them married and returned to the area, the newlywed wife would return to work for us either full or part-time.”

Sam expanded on his wife’s comments.

“Yes, for many young people this is their first job,” he said. “However, we’ve also had some long-time adult employees over the years. Remember Dolly Snyder? She worked for us for 26 years.”

The sandwich shop also served up some romance — and long term affection for the lengendary fare.

“People who are 45 to 50 years old will stop in and say that today is the anniversary of their first date and they wanted to come back here to the site of that first date,” said Callie.

“People who live out of the area stop in and tell us: ‘We stopped in here before seeing our family’,” said Sam.

His “commute” from his nearby home to the shop has been memorable as well.

“Years ago I walked to work,” said Sam. “There was no central air conditioning and people sat on their porches and windows and doors were open. It used to take me 45 minutes to walk to work, and our house is where it is today, just four blocks away! Everyone seemed to want to talk, and even cars passing would always honk their horns.”

The couple take a lot of pride and joy in their connections to Denver and its people.

“These are the stories that really satisfy us,” said Callie. “Makes you think you’re doing something right!”

Sam and Callie point to their daughter, Trish, when talking about the business’s longevity.

“We couldn’t have done the last 15 years without her,” they both said. “She’s been invaluable to us and we’re so grateful for her. The business is hard work, and until recently, we were open six days a week.”

Indeed their meticulousness was noted by more than one potential buyer of the business.

“Your equipment looks brand new,” one said.

“Four to five people spend more than one hour on clean up every night,” said Callie.

“Some of our equipment is close to 50 years old,” said Sam. “Our large, long stainless steel hood over the grill and fryer we bought in 1983 for $6,000. Today a new one would run approximately $40,000.”

“We disassemble and clean every single part of that hood once a week,” said Callie.

“The business is people and the interaction we had with people,” they said. “One of us was always on the premises.”

Because they knew their customers so well, Callie shared it wasn’t unusual for a family to phone in a take-out order and say: “My son wants his usual, and you know how he likes it.”

“We never thought of this business as work,” said Sam. “We got to live in a great little town. We raised our daughter and made a living. If I had to do it all over again and it was 1974, I’d do it all over again.”

Callie agrees:

“It was a good life. We like it here.”

Sam and Callie plan to remain in the area following retirement.

In a little over two weeks, Trish begins work as a paraprofessional in the Cocalico School District.

“We’re happy Trish has an opportunity to work in her chosen field,” said Callie.

Sam stressed his deep appreciation to everyone over the years.

“It’s been fantastic,” he said.


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