Dec. 18, 2023 By Iryna Shkurhan
Constantine’s Delicatessen, a staple deli in the Bayside community since 1931, is set to close its doors at the end of the year.
The narrow spot on 48th Avenue has gone through three changes in ownership over the years, but the name has stayed the same since its first owners – the Constantine family who ran the joint from 1931 to 1960 – started the business. The second set of owners, two brothers in law, ran the deli until 1983.
Constantine’s was then taken over by Lou Di Marco, who had worked at the eatery part time for several years prior. He purchased the building in 1986, conducted renovations and made it into a family run business that brought in a roster of regulars.
Di Marco’s son Michael grew up working in the deli before venturing into the restaurant industry on his own with a culinary degree. He returned to work at Constantine’s in 2003.
The Di Marcos say that the deli culture in Bayside is dying from its peak in the 80s and 90s. They attribute it to the demographic changes in the region and a rise in chain businesses siphoning off customers over the years.
“There really are no other delis in the area,” said Michael. “They seem to be doing okay on Long Island, but they’ve been going out of favor in Queens for a long time.”
Then the pandemic came, and the cost of everything from food to plasticware to insurance went up significantly, Michael said. It has become more difficult, he noted, to sustain the business and the family has not been able to break even in the past couple of years.
Currently, they only have five employees, down from over a dozen at their peak. And two of the cooks have been working there for over 25 years.
“It was a tough decision. You know, it took us a while to come to grips with it,” said Michael. “We’ve tried to adapt as best we can. We slimmed down our operation tremendously, and we were hanging in there.”
Delivering quality products has been their main goal for decades, and never compromising on quality has made it even more difficult to stay afloat and compete with big establishments that have popped up in the area.
They still get all of their bread and baked goods from Joe’s Sicilian Bakery down the road, which has been open almost as long as Constantine’s. Everything is still made from scratch, including the chicken cutlets that come out fresh every hour.
When they first announced that they were closing on social media, they received an overwhelming response from the community.
“We had some people crying literally. Some people just said congratulations,” said Michael, who essentially grew up in the shop. “But the people who come here are gonna miss us. We know that. They made that clear.”
Decades ago, Lou says there were tons of delis in the area that would compete for business. Now most of them have shut down leaving Constantine’s as the last “dinosaur” in the area.
Much of their business has also come from catering orders. They receive orders from numerous schools in the area for events. With Constantine’s closing down, Lou says they’ll probably resort to ordering from chains.
But Lou is critical of big-name sandwich shops, such as Jersey Mikes, which market themselves as doing what is standard for family-run delis such as theirs—cutting their cold cuts fresh with each order.
“That’s almost like a no brainer for us. We wouldn’t think of doing it any other way,” said Lou. “They’re making a big deal that they slice in front of you, which is almost like, you laugh at it.”
Constantine’s last day will be on Dec. 29 and the family hope that locals will come in to say goodbye.
“The community has been very good to us over the years. I have no regrets. I just wish I could have handed it over to someone else,” said Lou, who arrived from Italy in 1964, and envisioned passing on the business to Michael before retiring.