It is not an easy task interviewing Tony Spoletini, one of the “tre amici,” and the front man of the Spolumbo’s Deli. Not because he is difficult to talk to, but because he is one of the friendliest people around. His affability shines as he greets every person who enters, and they him, with a warm handshake or a hug.
31 year-old Mitch Green was working construction in the area and came in for a bite. Green and Spoletini met when Spoletini spoke to raise funds at Green’s junior high school in Drumheller 16 years ago. Green was welcomed by Spoletini like a long-lost cousin.
Moms, dads, aunts, uncles, the many friends, and welcomed strangers who come by for a coffee and sandwich or a famous Spolumbo’s sausage, are all part of what makes Spolumbo’s distinct.
“Family is the key to success,” said Spoletini.
31 year-old Mitch Green was working construction in the area and came in for a bite. Green and Spoletini met when Spoletini spoke to raise funds at Green’s junior high school in Drumheller 16 years ago. Green was welcomed by Spoletini like a long-lost cousin.Behind the counter, manager Slim Meddeb has been with Spolumbo’s for 14 years. He started shortly after moving to Canada from Tunisia, and never left.
“It’s a great environment– like a family place,” said Meddeb.
Spoletini’s dad comes in every day for a coffee, and his mom is still in the Deli at least three times a week lending a hand. Many of the recipes were hers, and many of the others originated from his cousin, partner Tom Spoletini’s in-laws, owners of restaurant Villa Firenze and Stromboli Inn. Owner Mike Palumbo’s dad used to cut meat and pick up supplies.
“My mom is the secret weapon,” said Tony Spoletini.
All three owners played professional football themselves and have gone on to coach, assist and support children in schools and organizations involved in sports. It is one of the countless ways the three give back to the community.
“Let’s take care of the people in our own backyard.”
Their connection to sports is the main décor of the deli. Signed memorabilia from “local or pro athletes” cover the walls. And not just football; their collection displays rodeo, hockey and even a signed jersey from Alex Rodriguez.
Spoletini says the best part of their careers has been getting to meet people through football and in their business, including the “multitude of great kids” through coaching.
Football was a big part of life for the boys growing up. The two Spoletini cousins, who played for St. Francis High School, looked up to Mike Palumbo, even though he attended St. Mary’s, when Palumbo went on to play “big time college football” at Washington State University.
Tony and Tom Spoletini played for the U of C Dinos, sharing the win of the Vanier Cup in 1983, and a second Vanier was won by Tony Spoletini in 1985.
That same year both Tom Spoletini and Mike Palumbo went pro playing for the Calgary Stampeders. Drafted by the Edmonton Eskimos in 1986, Tony Spoletini played against his comrades, who were once asked by their coach in battle–of–Alberta game which team they were on when they were cheering for Tony Spoletini from the bench. There was even more cheering when the northern team won the 1986 Grey Cup.
The three played together for Calgary at the end of their football careers in the early 1990s until they “reached their pinnacle” with football, and it was time to move on.
Employing their strong family support and values, work ethic, and using the most of their celebrity status the three partnered up and began grinding meat, mixing it by hand, and using an old hydraulic stuffer to make sausage in the basement of 9th Street Deli before it opened for the day. They sold their sausage to local businesses.
Eventually they subleased the location from Calgary Home Appliance in 1992, and changed the name to Spolumbo’s Fine Foods and Deli.
After 25 years in business many of the same recipes are still used today.
Going from recognized sports figures and making good money to starting a business and working long hours seven days a week was an adjustment for the men, their wives, and their young families.
“If we didn’t have such great wives they could have left us. They believed in it,” reveals Tony Spoletini.
Each of the men fell into their positions within the business simply based on what they were good at. Palumbo is in charge of production, shipping and inventory for the facility. He says that becoming a “federal establishment” was always part of the plan and that although all three had the same goals in mind, “it was not all peaches and cream.”
“Tony’s got the gift of gab, Tommy’s in charge of sales,” Palumbo says of his partners.
Tommy Spoletini reaches out to other business with deliveries, as well as does logistics to ensure products are ready for the next day.
He says it’s important to keep up to the expectations of the younger generations, and understand their needs.
“Young people keep us on track,” explains Tommy Spoletini.
Palumbo says they are very equal partners with different strengths and faults. But they were also equally unafraid to work hard and put in long days.
“That’s the way we were brought up,” states Palumbo.
Although their parents did not play or coach football, their parents who immigrated from Italy in the ’50’s were always involved and helping out where they could. They would often welcome teams of players into their homes for dinner – which to Italians “is the best part of the day.”
“Their door was always open to share,” Tony Spoletini describes.
Tony Spoletini explained that sharing and helping each other was part of what the Italians did when they immigrated during and after World War II. One family member would sometimes come alone and then sponsor the rest of the family. In the meantime, others in the Italian community became their family. The older generation would help the young moms and dads raise their children; the generosity unfolded.
Between the men there are eight Spolumbo’s children, almost all of who are adults now. Raising their children, the “tre” try to instil values of family, work ethic and education.
Palumbo says that it would be a great “comfort” to know that his children find something that they can focus on to constantly get them to “the next level” while “still enjoying the ride.”
“To me your greatest gift you can give your kids is education,” says Palumbo.
They young men were mentored business-wise by the Forzani group, who, like them, played football, and went on to become a successful sports retailers.
By watching others they learned many secrets to success.
“Always be true to who you are, don’t change,” shared Tony Spoletini.
A sense of community and hospitality is what they knew and have amalgamated into their own business. From family, to field to platter, the trio took what the knew best “one step further.”
“I want people to know that we appreciate their time, and that we want to make their time spent with us the best part of their day,” shared Tony Spoletini.
“We stayed true to what we started in the business: quality and service. You’re only as good as your customers,” reflected Tom Spoletini.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years,” smiled Palumbo.