Located on Fairfield Beach Road, Beachside Deli and Pizza is very popular among Fairfield University students. It doesn’t look like anything special, not too big, no fancy sign outside to attract a crowd. It’s just a little awning covering a small porch with one table and about five chairs sitting outside providing a view of the Grape. What is it then that attracts so many people to this deli? The location may be close to the beach houses, a convenience for the seniors, but they’re not the only Beach Side goers.
On a Wednesday morning the place is empty, but Yanni Taxiltaridis is sweating while rushing around behind the counter. His muscular tanned arm opens one of the large silver pizza ovens and a waft of steam and scent of garlic hits the air revealing a bubbling tray of lasagna. Unsatisfied, Yanni closes the door and takes a second to wipe his face with his shirt exposing a tattooed torso. Yanni has a strong, tough looking body with a friendly face shadowed by a Yankee hat.
His tough exterior may be owed to his four years of UConn football, in which he received a full scholarship four years ago. As a student he was forced into becoming a sociology major but knew he wasn’t going anywhere with that. He took some business classes and minored in history.
As a kid, Yanni grew up in Fairfield. His father owned a diner where Yanni’s nine- year-old hands would scrub dishes in a small, loud kitchen for no pay. He would watch his very Greek father with a broken accent talk to customers, sometimes for hours. His father was a very hard worker and didn’t understand the whole going to college and playing football deal Yanni was into.
Starting when he was seventeen, every spring when Fairfield Beach point is filled with college students, kegs and red solo cups, Yanni could be spotted sharing a drink with Fairfield University students. Clam Jam was an event. Yanni and his friends would count down the days until Clam Jam. “It was bigger than you would ever imagine back then. The police were a lot cooler too. They would just stand there and watch, not like today.” Hungry after a long day of partying in the sun, Yanni and his friends would walk across the street and grab a quick sandwich at what is now his own Beach Side.
“I always knew I wanted to own this deli.”
For him it’s not about the money, it’s all about the relationships he makes. And Yanni really does know his customers.
“You, what’s goin’ on, what can I get for you Mr. Stevens?”
“Not much, just a bacon egg and cheese today.”
“You want the egg whites and extra bacon?”
Now in his thirties, Yanni works by himself in the mornings while his cashier, Jeanine, is taking classes at Sacred Heart. She’s from Fairfield too and familiar with many of the people in town, including the “townie” bouncer at the Grape, who Yanni jokingly accuses one of his young customers of making out with this weekend. It’s around eleven, her blonde hair up in a bun on the top of her head and Doughnut Inn coffee in hand.
“You might have to make some deliveries for me today” Yanni breaks the news, “that bozo won’t answer his phone but you might need some help.”
“Its fine Mike will do it with me, I gotta grab him from his house though.”
Jeanine is going off to deliver the lasagna Yanni had been cooking earlier in the morning, along with another couple of steaming trays. These are all part of the lunches he delivers every day to a pharmaceutical company in town.
Unlike many Fairfield residents who resent the rowdy Fairfield University students, they’re Yanni’s favorite part of the job. His big body bobs a little when he laughs about last year’s Clam Jam incident. A very drunk girl wobbled into the deli demanding a tuna melt. Yanni informed her the grill was already turned off and the belligerent girl started yelling he was a bad businessman.
“I didn’t care, I told her to get out,” he said while laughing.
The next thing he knew the girl had thrown a beer can right at him.
Yanni’s favorite part of the job is spending time with the students and the freedom he’s allowed to have. He visited Las Vegas during Halloween weekend. Football was a large part of his life in college, but it wasn’t what he ever planned on doing for the rest of his life. Rather than morning football practice and running sprints, Yanni stays active by going to Jujutsu class. He leaves work every Wednesday at 11:45 a.m. and goes down the street to a gym owned by his friend.
Since graduating college, Yanni has always been somewhat free. He packed up his bags and flew to Greece where he spent six months. He didn’t have a job or any responsibility here. When his pockets were feeling a little light, he’d pick up the phone and call his Grandpa for some money.
As he busily fills orders, he talks about the great times he’s had and plans on continuing to have. He’s happy to go on deliveries and share a beer with customers, or really friends. He plays Beruit and even makes plans to meet graduates from two years ago in the city.
“I enjoy when the kids come in here. It keeps me young. That’s what I am, a big kid.”