A historic Oakland establishment is closing on April 30th. Genova Delicatessen has been in business in the Temescal District of Oakland since 1926. A loved spot by many, patrons have lined up amongst the aisles for decades, watching the numbers tick by until they could put in an order for their favorite Italian deli sandwich. Genova has been a testament to how a business can thrive for close to 100 years; good service, good food, and a dedication to old world Italian roots. I decided to make a final trip on Monday, to brave the wait with two small children, to order a #9, and to say thank you. It was perfectly apropos that as I tried to explain to my four year old that the deli was closing and that we needed to wait our turn, he said, “but when they close the doors, who is going to open them again?”
Owner Dominic DeVincenzi has been the face of Genova since 1951. The original owners were Italian immigrants Lorenzo Balbi and Pietro Pira, who together opened the deli in 1926 to cater to the large Italian immigrant community in the Temescal District of Oakland. DeVincenzi married into the family, marrying the niece of Lorenzo Balbi. His memories of visits to the deli as a young boy sparked an interest in learning the business from his new uncle. For the past 65 years the DeVincenzi family has grown the business to include their Ravioli factory on Broadway, as well as a Napa retail location. In 1996, Dominic moved the store to Temescal Plaza after the Loma Prieta earthquake left the original storefront structurally compromised.
As rumors began in January that Genova was locked in a rent dispute with the owners of Temescal Plaza, Oakland residents have been crossing their fingers that a resolution would be met and Genova would continue on to hit the 100 year mark and beyond. However, word came out just a few days ago that April 30th would be the final day to grab a number for your favorite Italian sandwich. From the reading I have done, it seems a bit unclear if it was an actual rent increase or the general cost of doing business in Oakland these days that has led to the decision by the DeVincenzi family to close the deli’s doors. The family’s primary goal has been to avoid price increases, so rather than raise the cost of their Italian sandwiches, salads, sauces, and pastas, they have chosen to turn off the lights instead.
I arrived at 10:30am and pulled number 18, and the the ticket counter was on 89. I took a deep breath and spent time watching the patrons, taking a few pictures, and begging my kids to be patient. I saw a loving hand squeeze between Marcello and a long time customer, I heard well wishes, I saw sad smiles. I heard customers talking about what they always order, sharing their favorites. I saw a man standing quietly reading his newspaper while he waited, and I wondered if he came and did this everyday. As my kids got more wiggly, stroller shifts began, the iPhone came out with YouTube at the ready, and I continued to take deep breaths, knowing it would be worth it in the end. As our sandwiches were being made, my daughter Molly started to eat the front of the deli case by the prosciutto, and then watched with awe as a group of Berkeley firemen came in.
As I took my bag of sandwiches, bread, salami’s and breadsticks, I said thank you and good luck and bid farewell to Genova Delicatessen. I decided a picnic was in order, so we headed out of Temescal on 51st and wound over to Grand Avenue to see if the roses were in bloom at the Morcom Rose Garden. Our timing was perfect. Colors are in full force at this local gem. Vibrant reds, pinks, oranges and yellows were in full blossom, so we plopped down on a bench, kept a close eye on the local wild turkey, and dug in to enjoy our sandwiches before wandering the pathways. It was the perfect place to enjoy our last bites from the beloved deli.
The Morcom Rose Garden has been a local treasure since its design was conceptualized in 1932. In 1933, Mayor Frank Morcom planted the first rose. Over time the garden has been expanded upon, but in a simple way that has kept most of the original design intact. Walkways, staircases, water features, and a few stretches of lawn offer plenty of spots to relax and unwind, to rest and enjoy this amazing 7 acre oasis in the middle of the city.
In the end it was the perfect way to pay tribute to an Oakland establishment that has meant so much to the community over the years. It seemed fitting in a way that Molly held onto her turkey sandwich with a vice-like grip as we wandered and stopped to smell the roses. She’s too little to understand the irony, but it didn’t pass by me unnoticed. Hopefully we can all hold on to our memories of Genova Delicatessen with the same type of toddler-inspired grip.
I wish the best of luck to the DeVecenzi family and all their employees. Thank you for the memories, especially this one.
Genova Delicatessen’s last day of business will be this coming Saturday, April 30th. As of April 26th, their website states that they have stopped taking phone and fax orders due to the unprecedented amount they have received.
All photos by Adrienne Schell
Owner Retains Deli Spirit He Loved as a Boy, www.sfgate.com, 11/25/98
Friends of the Morcom Rose Garden, www.friendsofoaklandrose.org