Route 7's Steve's Deli turns 30

From a young age, Steve Merkel felt at home in the kitchen.

His passion for cooking led to the Culinary Institute of America, from which he graduated, and eventually to Steve’s Deli in New Milford.

Merkel opened Steve’s Deli nearly 30 years ago, a deli that has since been an anchor on the south end of town.

“It’s a joy to serve people a great product,” Merkel said.

The business is not only celebrating its 30th anniversary, but its fifth anniversary at its present location, 562 Danbury Road (Route 7 South).

It moved from its longtime home at 445 Danbury Road five years ago when Merkel’s deli and catering business, Steven C. Merkel Catering, formerly Wine and Roses Catering, outgrew the space.

“It was seamless,” he said of the move. “It gave us everything I knew the south side would give us.”

The deli relocated to space next to Valley Golf Course on Route 7 South, giving his customers more parking, and him a bigger kitchen and a more spacious store in which he can display his products and customers can dine.

A community table and a counter are anchors in the store, giving a homey vibe to the deli that boasts traditional and non-traditional deli fare and specials.

Picnic tables out front provide ample seating for those who want to enjoy sunshine while waiting for an order or dine outdoors.

“It’s kind of like a little family place,” said resident Charles Perrenod, who has frequented the deli for numerous years.

“I love walking up to it,” he said, describing the hanging plants, the herbs and spices growing outside, and the location next to a cornfield.

A morning customer, Perrenod said the deli’s “delicious food” paired with “catching a morning sunrise” outside is a positive experience.

Inside, he enjoys “talking recipes and food” with Merkel.

Steve’s Deli serves breakfast and lunch, specializing in premium meats, homemade salads and daily specials. Fresh baked goods, such as muffins and brownies, and grab-and-go snacks round out its offerings.

In addition, Merkel’s catering business, Steven C. Merkel Catering, is available for setup/drop off and full service, with customized menus for a variety of events — engagement parties, weddings, bridal showers, BBQs, cocktail parties and more.

Michael Barnes, who has been a customer for about 10 years, described Merkel’s catering as “top shelf” and a “strength” of his culinary skills.

Barnes, who is a morning patron, said Merkel has provided him with “terrific” catered dishes on multiple occasions.

In the mornings, Barnes leans toward a cheese omelet, but noted Merkel will also make wraps and other dishes for patrons.

“I like the people and that I get great food and neighborly chat with other customers in the mornings,” Barnes said of why he is a faithful patron.

Merkel said he’s enjoyed being in the industry for as long as he has, especially when it comes to his customers.

He noted he is now catering events for, for example, the children of couples for whom he catered engagement parties.

“We’re serving generations of customers,” he said.

Merkel attributes the success of his business to a few things.

“A lot of luck, hard work, listening to what people are looking for and putting that into motion,” he said.

“Most importantly, consistency,” he added.

Additionally, he enjoys the people he meets.

“It’s just been a dream,” Merkel said. “To work for myself and be in control of my destiny.”

Building relationships with the customers is important to the business owner.

One of the customers he met, Doug Skelly, became a longtime friend.

The two men opened their businesses — Skelly opened East Coast Carpet Cleaning and Upholstery (see last week’s edition of The Spectrum) — around the same time.

Now neighbors, the men not only both own businesses in town but take an annual vacation to Florida together to “recharge their batteries,” Merkel said.