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No Baloney: This Deli's a Town Treasure

Hermosa Beach Store Known for Friendly Atmosphere Is Many Residents' Bread and Butter

May 23, 1997|TRACY JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The flip-flops and swim trunks are regular enough to rival those at any Hawaiian shaved ice stand. Bare-chested surfers and bikini-clad beach-goers pass through as often as the sun shines. And winter blues give way to summer sentiments just about every day.

Welcome to Mickey's Deli, the most venerated mom-and-pop delicatessen in Hermosa Beach.

Since 1953 the beachside deli has served up sandwiches, suntan oil and sundries to the young and restless residents of the South Bay's smallest beach city. Here at Mickey's, old-timers come in to get a taste of the past while Gen-Xers thrive on present-day pizza specials.

Mickey's is a hybrid of Old World charm and modern day convenience. A place where grandma's homemade marinara sauce meets Hostess Ho-Ho's. A deli where the kindness of strangers and the counter help are a reminder that people do know their neighbors.

In parking-challenged Hermosa Beach, folks don't give up their prized space simply because they ran out of toothpaste. They walk to Mickey's instead.

*

When Mickey Mance opened his deli, pizza was the only thing he sold. Over the years his family business has grown so large and well-known that Mance, now 65, opened a second store in neighboring Redondo Beach six months ago.

The original store survived an electrical fire that forced Mance to rebuild, and then the Northridge earthquake made a mess in the aisles. These days Mance is trying to survive amid growing competition from grocery stores and delis that have squeezed out a lot of small businesses.

Still, customers come. They come for the homespun friendliness and the fresh prosciutto. They come for that Mayberry quality that says "small town" and the camaraderie that spills over the counter.

"This is like our second home," says Mance's only son, Paul, as he rings up a Snapple, tuna sandwich (no tomatoes) and sunscreen for a beach-bound customer. "We all have a lot of fun."

Bruce Tuttle knows all about having a good time. He used to come to Mickey's when he was a teenager. Once he and his friends bought a bunch of candy there with the free change they found on the street outside after a surfer broke a parking meter with his longboard and walked away.

Now Tuttle, a 38-year-old construction worker, comes on his lunch break. The sandy-blond beach boy greets Mickey, who works only Monday and Tuesday now, before heading over to Paul.

Like his dad, Paul, 35, is wearing a signature Mickey's T-shirt, shorts and slippers and is busy running a Quick Pick through the lottery machine. He runs the store side by side with his pop, who is busy doing the bookkeeping.

"How are ya, how are the kids?" Tuttle asks.

"Real good, thanks," says Paul, as he rings up Tuttle's iced tea and hollers to longtime cook Xavier Figueroa to make the usual. "How are you? It's hot out there today."

When Tuttle was a teen, he bought the deli's 7-cent bread loaf. Today he waits for Mickey's Combo, the house sandwich (no onions) for $2.75.

The lunch rush has started. Kirk Oberdeck struts into the store from a nearby construction site and orders the combo. The Hermosa Beach native was here just an hour ago to buy water and an hour before that for a Snapple. Oberdeck says he comes here most every day.

Even the meat man is the same guy after all these years. Johnny Pagano rolls in a couple cases of cold cuts Monday morning, chitchats with Mickey, then does business with Paul, who wasn't even born when Pagano started delivering here 40 years ago.

"How's your sister?" Pagano asks, leafing the order forms on his clipboard.

"She's doing great," Paul replies. "She's got four boys now."

*

Mickey's son-in-law, Dino Capaldi, moonlights making pizza and ringing up customers after a full day's work as a high school teacher.

Capaldi's well-worn apron is covered with grandma's special sauce, which the deli bottles and sells, as he juggles customers at the cash register and phones parents whose kids didn't show up at his class. "Yes, ma'am, she was absent," he tells a parent, then, with the receiver still in his ear, he turns to a customer buying beer and toilet paper.

"That'll be a $5.63," he says.

As always, with a smile.

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