I’ve been eating at Mutual Street Deli for years, everything from scrambled eggs in the morning to a club sandwich or a quarter chicken dinner (leg, fries, Greek salad) at lunch. I’d eat there more often, but a brief flirtation with dinner hours ended just as suddenly as it began.
“We tried it for a while, but it broke down,” co-owner Spiro Boulieris said.
“I don’t really need to open for dinner. We do fine enough during the day, always have,” he added.
We’re sitting in the restaurant on a sunny afternoon, an hour before closing. It’s not packed but people are sitting down to eat and a few more drift in for take-out. The restaurant, located at 103 Mutual St., has been around for half a century.
“It’s a family business. My father, myself, my brother work here, my mother just left. It’s been around for 53 years. My grandfather opened it in 1957. My father’s been here since 1962. It blows your mind. I’ve been here 10, full-time,” Boulieris said.
It wasn’t always his intention to be behind the counter.
“I grew up in the restaurant business but I was a mechanic for years. They kind of suck you back in like the Mafia,” he joked.
With Ryerson so close by and the Styrofoam take-out containers seemingly ubiquitous in lecture halls, I expected students to make up a good portion of Mutual Street Deli’s business.
“We get a lot of faculty, actually. The younger generation is more mesmerized by franchises, stuff like that. People who have been introduced to this type of restaurant, from their parents or growing up or they’re from small towns, they like this kind of restaurant,” he said.
“We have to rely on word of mouth to keep our business going. We don’t have enough street traffic – it’s not Yonge Street here. So you need repeat customers. We have customers who have been coming here for 45 years. There’s a guy that comes here that started at Sears when he was 16 years old, in the stock room. He’s a manager now and he still comes here.”
Boulieris’s favourite thing on the menu is the smoked meat sandwich, but he doesn’t always get to enjoy it.
“I hate to say this, but when you work in the restaurant business, you’re with that food every day and you lose the smell for it. If I was to stay away from the business for a few days, I’d come and have a Montreal smoked meat sandwich, my favourite of all things. But I cut 50, 60 sandwiches a day; I don’t desire it.
“We get our smoked meat from Montreal, so you can’t go wrong. It’s one of the most popular dishes, too. Across the board, we sell our items almost equally. We do burgers, we do deli meats, we do breakfast, fish and chips, barbecued chicken…they’re all popular. We used to have liver and onions – I love it, but nobody else did. So we got rid of it. Everything on the menu flies,” he said.
Though the business has been in his family for generations, Boulieris doesn’t see it continuing.
“You know what? I don’t think I want my kids to be in the restaurant business. I wasn’t intending to be in the restaurant business. Life’s funny that way. My kids are second-generation. I think they could probably do a little bit…go a little bit higher on that ladder.
“I might never do as good as my dad did in the ’80s, when there were no coffee shops. They used to have a lineup for three hours. You can’t possibly compare that to today’s dollars. You don’t do that kind of money anymore. So I’ll probably never do as well as he did and my kids might never do as well as I do. Just because it’s a business and maybe they’ll get educated and have easier lives. You know, go on vacations,” he says with a smile.