BRIDGEPORT — Seven months after he lost his business and home in a devastating fire, Pete Soluri has reopened his sandwich shop in what he thinks is a nicer building and a better location in the neighborhood.
With a few weeks at the new establishment under his belt, Pete is optimistic about his business. Things are going well, Pete said. But he does have some new competition.
Fewer than 2 miles away, his son, Giovanni Soluri, also has just opened a deli and is using the family name and a similar presentation as his father's shop.
Patrons might justifiably be confused by the situation. Pete and Giovanni opened and operated Soluri & Sons Italian Deli on South Halsted Street until December 2016, when it closed due to the fire.
Now Pete operates Nonna Soluri's Italian Deli, 3142 S. Morgan St., and Giovanni has opened Soluri Brothers Sandwich Shop, 601 W. 43rd St. in Canaryville. Both opened within the last month.
They are not the same business, nor are the father and son partners in the sandwich business. Pete and Giovanni had a disagreement while operating the Halsted Street business, and though the business was in Giovanni's name, he was not working there at the time of the fire, both said.
Pete Soluri mans the counter behind his new business, Nonna Soluri's Italian Deli, 3142 S. Morgan St. [DNAinfo/Joe Ward]
Both father and son have downplayed the competition between the two local businesses, but Pete acknowledged he's frustrated in his son's decision to open in his backyard. (Both men are Bridgeport natives and still live in the area.)
"A lot of people think it's my place," Pete said of his son's business. "They're disappointed when they see it isn't. I wish he did have a different name."
Pete and his ex-wife opened a deli in the neighborhood in the early 1990s, but closed it four years later, he said. Pete and Giovanni decided to give it another go in 2013, and Pete said it was a successful business until last year's fire.
Though they were no longer business partners at the time, Giovanni came to his dad's aid, setting up a GoFundMe for him to find temporary housing.
"He lost his house and business in a day," Giovanni said. "I wanted to help out."
But Giovanni knew he wanted to branch out on his own. That dream came true when he won $100,000 in a poker tournament early this year, he said.
With the funding secured, all Giovanni needed was a location. He looked in Mount Greenwood, where he studied at St. Xavier University, and others told him to consider Downtown. But Giovanni said he wanted to stick where his built-in customer base was.
"I wanted to be in a neighborhood spot," said Giovanni, 27. "I could have opened anywhere. I wanted it to be someplace the neighborhood could be proud of."
Giovanni Soluri preparing a sandwich at Saluri Brothers Sandwich Shop, 601 W. 43rd St. [DNAinfo/Joe Ward]
The biggest difference in the two businesses is the menu. Giovanni's place in Canaryville focuses on traditional Italian sub sandwiches, plus burgers and salads. Pete's menu has breaded steak sandwiches, meatball sandwiches, Italian sausage and other fast-Italian staples Bridgeport is famous for.
The meatball and breaded steak recipes are from Pete's grandmother, hence his businesses's name "Nonna Soluri's." Pete said he was ready to franchise the business and give his son the recipes if he opened in another area, but that didn't happen.
"I can't do that because I'd be cutting my own neck," Pete said of giving out the recipes.
So Giovanni is forging ahead with a new concept, including paninis and the "Peter," a grilled chicken sandwich with provolone and sweet peppers that Giovanni said is a customer favorite.
"We have some things we had before and some new things," Giovanni said.
Giovanni prepares a grilled chicken sandwich known as the Peter. [DNAinfo/Joe Ward]
Both men said they aren't sure what the competing businesses would mean for their bottom lines. Giovanni did not want to discuss the dynamic other than to say he and his dad did not get along too well while working together and that he has no regrets about opening in the area.
"Oh yeah, very happy," he said. "We've been slammed."
Pete said he hopes his son makes it and he'd be there for him either way.
"I'm laughing about it now," he said. "He's a smart kid. I wish him success."
A few minutes later, a longtime friend of Pete's stops by his deli and teases him by saying his son's place had a line out the door.
"There's no competition," a laughing Pete said to his friend. "Because he couldn't polish my shoes!"