Goodbye to The College Delly
March 25, 2007
As they walk through the door of The College Delly and Pizza Restaurant, patrons are immediately grabbed by the smell. It’s a mix of smoke, fried food and beer, with a pinch of hookah — exactly how a college bar should smell. The green- and tan-striped walls are plastered with College memorabilia ranging from fraternity and sorority composites that date back to the late 1980s, to Tribe sports photos to countless pictures of exuberant graduating seniors. The pictures on the walls are but a tiny fraction of the Delly’s collection, all mementos of the establishment’s two business partners, owner Dean Tsamouras and general manager Ray Causey.
p. Above the counter is a makeshift sign advertising “last edition” T-shirts bearing the Delly’s insignia. Along the bottom reads a simple sentence: “Thanks for the best 20 years we could have asked for!” After 40 years of serving Williamsburg, the Delly will close its doors for the last time this summer to make room for a new Starbucks.
p. Tsamouras is a man full of stories. He could talk for hours on end about the experiences he’s had owning the Delly since he bought it in 1986 at the ripe age of 21. The phrase “off the record” doesn’t seem to be part of his vernacular, as he recalled former students and ranted about the cops with a candor that makes it seem as if you’ve known him for years.
p. As the owner, Tsamouras rarely takes a day off. “There were times when Ray and I wouldn’t take a day off for months at a time,” he said. “I’m in here almost every night. But we’ve had some fun times.”
p. Tsamouras recalled one night after a snow storm before the construction of the Delly’s outside patio. “It had snowed about a foot that day,” he said. “Some guys were outside having a snowball fight with the people waiting in line to get into Paul’s [Deli] across the street.”
p. The fight was moved from Scotland Street to Richmond Road when the owner of Paul’s asked them to move so they didn’t break the windows. “One team was behind the brick wall over on the other side of Richmond, and we were over here behind our wall. That fight lasted until six in the morning. At one point, there was a cab driving up the road and we said, ‘Don’t drive here, we’re having a snowball fight.’ But you know how cabbies can be, and he was like, ‘Fuck you,’ so we pelted the cab. He called the police, and when the cop showed up, he told us to stop, and we pelted him. He told the cabbie, ‘You probably shouldn’t drive here anymore tonight. I can’t do anything about it.’ That was a crazy night.”
p. In addition to snowball fights, the Delly has also seen its fair share of celebrities over the years. “One time Bruce Hornsby came in with Jerry Garcia. My mom was working the counter, and she ended up telling Jerry that he should lose some weight,” Tsamouras said.
p. The Delly has also served professional athletes, such as retired NBA star David Robinson and current Minnesota Viking safety Darren Sharper, ’97, and stars, such as Glenn Close, ’74, and Jon Stewart, ’84.
p. “Jon used to come in with the soccer team,” Causey said. “Even back then, he had the same biting humor as he does now.”
p. Campus groups, such as sports teams and Greek organizations, have been one of the staples of the Delly’s success. “When the Delly first opened, it was like a mom and pop sandwich place,” Tsamouras said. “The only people from the College that hung out here were the Sigma Chis. We had to build up the loyalty from the students. We started a delivery business from the Delly in ’86, and we used to employ a couple of fraternity brothers to deliver for us. That translated into making the Delly a hangout scene with drinking and all that.”
p. Gradually, the Delly gained popularity and it grew to the point that several fraternities had a night to deliver. “The way it worked was if the guy who was supposed to deliver that night couldn’t do it, he’d get one of his brothers to cover for him,” Causey said. “We’d get the Theta Delts, the Lambos and a bunch more. We’d give them a tab, and they’d just hang out here, and it was a lot of fun. Sometimes they’d bring sororities with them. Everyone got to be good friends.”
p. Having built up his niche in Williamsburg nightlife, Tsamouras isn’t thrilled that a Starbucks will replace his restaurant. He said that despite everything he owes to the students from the College, the time is right for him to move on. Business is not doing as well as in the past, and he feels he’s lost touch with the clientele.
p. “I don’t feel like I know many of the students any more,” he said. “They hop around the Delis, and it doesn’t seem like they have any loyalty to one place like they used to. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just the way it is now. Times are changing, you know what I mean? We’ve got so much more police. The problem with adults is that they don’t remember what it was they were being bad. Everybody wants to know why I’m selling. The only people I owe anything to is the students. I don’t owe any explanation to anybody else.”
p. Tsamouras said the petitions that have been circulating to try and keep the Delly intact have made the decision to sell emotionally tough. “I tried a couple of times to groom someone to take over, but it never worked out,” he said. “None of the offers I got from people wanting to keep the Delly open were reasonable. I don’t like that there’s a Starbucks coming in, but there weren’t any other options.”
p. Come July 1, the Delly will cease to exist, and Tsamouras is not looking forward to closing. “It’s sad to me. I don’t want to go,” he said. “The only people I’ll miss are the students. I’ll remember them forever.”