'Midway Joe' remembered as 'bigger than life

New Milford has lost an iconic figure with the Aug. 1 death of Joe Germano, who was known for his oversized personality as much as for the oversized sandwiches he made at his deli.

Tagged with the moniker "Midway Joe,'' Mr. Germano, the 25-year owner of the Route 202 Midway Market and Deli in New Milford, was remembered Monday as a big man who liked big cigars and big sandwiches (see obituary, page S7).

Standing before the deli counter that afternoon, New Milford Hospital cardiologist Michael Levine ordered a "Half a Joe'' special to honor the man who died of cancer.

Another namesake sandwich on the menu was the "Flamin' Joe,'' a version of his regular ham and cooked salami special with hot pepper spread, provolone, onions and spices.

"He was one of a kind, very happy-go-lucky,'' Dr. Levine said about Mr. Germano, who was diagnosed with liver cancer last month.

His son-in-law, Lenin Moronta, said he was like a "dad,'' a successful entrepreneur who started in the cookie business with Famous Amos and was famous for his meaty, oversize sandwiches.

Asked if the store would now close, Mr. Moronta said his father-in-law "would kill me if I close. I can't close."

On Monday, on the front of the store and deli counters, there were photos of a smiling Joe Germano, dressed in a tuxedo with his trademark cigar, above copies of his obituary.

"I dressed up as Joe for Halloween,'' said deli operator Ruth Lundgren, who was busy Monday making several "Joe'' specials. "It still cracks me up.''

She pauses. "It's going to be quiet around here without Joe.''

Upstairs, Sharoan Westervelt, owner of Sharoan's hair salon, was saddened by the death of the man who was not only her landlord for the past 12 years but a friend.

"He was definitely a character, fun to be around,'' said Ms. Westervelt, who last saw Mr. Germano in New Milford Hospital a few days before.

She said she also loved his "beautiful'' family.

He is survived by his wife, Joan, and two married daughters, Stacey Monarato and Lindsay Matthews.

"She [is] the sweetest woman you've ever met,'' Ms. Westervelt said about Mr. Germano's widow.

Ms. Westervelt said Joe Germando was a typical New York Italian who "loved his golf and his cigars.'' Her clients would often bring up one of his sandwiches. Their favorites were "Joe's Special'' and the "Italian Zinger.''

"He was a very generous man,'' she said. "He and I had a lot of laughs over the years. He was there for me, for sure."

"It's a hard day,'' Ms. Westervelt whispered.