The aroma is the first thing that hits you after stepping into Napa’s Genova Deli — a combination of spices, salamis, cheeses, fresh breads and other scents.
“It’s Italian potpourri,” co-owner Patti DeVincenzi said with a smile. Customers are always commenting about it.
This authentic Italian deli has deep roots in the valley, but the business was born in the Temescal district of Oakland in 1926.
After a few early ownership changes, the business has been been run by Dominic and Barbara DeVincenzi for many decades.
Their son, David DeVincenzi, essentially grew up in the Oakland deli. In 1985, David opened the Napa Genova deli in 1985. Two other Genova Delis, owned by a separate branch of the family, are located in Walnut Creek.
To the consternation of longtime customers, the Oakland Genova closed to customers on April 30. It was the business’ 90th anniversary.
Some news sources reported the closure was due to a lease dispute, but Patti DeVincenzi, David’s wife, said the couple was retiring from the Oakland business. The commute from their home in Napa to Oakland was getting to be too much, she said.
But not to worry. That doesn’t mean the family is retiring from the Napa deli. “We’re here to stay,” said Patti DeVincenzi.
The secret to the success of the family business in Napa is simple, David DeVincenzi: “Good food at a good price.”
“We’ve built up friendships,” said Rory Franco, the Napa deli manager. “We call you by name when you walk through the door. I love my customers.”
The quality of the food is equally important, family members said. Genova sells the choicest meats, cheeses and other products. Salads, pasta dishes and soups are made on site. The family has its own factory in Oakland where raviolis, fresh pasta, lasagna and other foods are made.
The deli sells dozens of cheeses, salamis and meats. They offer more than 100 wines, some from local winemakers that are also customers. Shoppers can also find Italian cakes, cookies and candy, olive oil, polenta, vinegar, crackers, canned foods and skinny breadsticks. A coffee bar sells Italian sodas, espresso and other drinks.
After being approached in the early ‘80s by the Longs drugstore family, who owned part of the North Napa strip mall in which they are located, the DeVincenzi family bought their wing of the mall — from the deli to the frame shop.
“It was a winner right from when we opened the door,” said David DeVincenzi.
“There are a lot of sandwich shops in Napa but this is the real deal. Everything is original,” said Franco.
“It’s what I’d take home and eat,” said David DeVincenzi.
The Napa Genova has 25 to 27 employees, many longtime staffers like Franco, who’s been with the business for 31 years.
For Franco, serving food is more than just making sandwiches. You’re feeding people, he said. Like when you make a meal at home, “you’re serving family.” It’s intangible but it resonates, he said.
Erika Perez-Montez works at the CVS pharmacy next to the Genova Deli. Besides the food, she likes that “they treat you like family.” The guys in the men’s coffee group “always save me a seat,” she said.
When she heard the Oakland Genova had to close, “I was kind of shocked,” she said. ‘I’m just glad it wasn’t this one.”
“It’s sad the other one closed,” said Ken Wing of Napa.
Wing is one of a group of men who gather each weekday morning at the deli’s coffee counter.
Genova is special to him “because it reminds me of my childhood in Napa,” when he’d walk into town and there were many other such family-owned businesses.
Today “the big chains are taking over,” Wing said. Genova sells things you can’t find anywhere else, like imported Italian foods.
“This is one of the few links to the past,” Wing said. “The only thing they don’t have is a bocce ball court.”
“They have good food, especially the ribs,” said Rich Rau of Napa, another longtime regular. His favorite parts of the deli are the sandwich the Italian combo and “the people who work here.”
Ebonee Hancox of Vallejo stopped by the Napa deli on Tuesday to buy some salami to take with her to family in Southern California.
Family members had specifically requested it, said Hancox, who called Genova something special.
“They’ve been around forever,” she said. Not too many other businesses can say the same, she said.
David’s father worked six and half days a week, said Patti DeVincenzi. And when he wasn’t working he was thinking about work, the couple said. David’s mother also worked at the Oakland deli for many years. His parents live in Walnut Creek and both continue to be involved in bigger business decisions.
The Great Recession had little impact on their business, David DeVincenzi said, adding people still have to eat.
However, Napa’s two most recent earthquakes, in 2002 and then 2014, made quite a mess inside, said Patti DeVincenzi. “Everything was off the shelves,” she said. “Wine was pouring out the door like a river.” A sticky mess of olive oil and vinegar coated the floors. “It smelled so good,” she said with a laugh.
The family is still cleaning out the former Oakland deli, bringing some memorabilia to the Napa shop, like old photos, recipes and an old calculating machine that DeVincenzi’s father used every day.
It’s a big change for the family. The Oakland deli has been around as long as he’s been alive, David DeVincenzi said.
“I’m still not over it,” he said.