How Uncle's became Uncle's
When your mom offers to put up her house as collateral so you can start a business, do you do it? Robert Williamson did.
After attending school in New York City to become a cartoonist, he quickly realized the dream wasn't all it was cracked up to be. So Williamson decided to go into the deli business. He'd worked in a deli as a teen, so it was familiar territory, and he and a friend opened a deli in New Rochelle.
They had a few good years, but it wasn't meant to be. After being held up at gunpoint -- twice -- Williamson decided, "I'm not dying for this place," and left.
During the next two years, he drove a limo in order to save some cash and eventually decided to open a deli of his own. When discussing the idea with his mother, who was a Realtor at the time, she told him she'd found a piece of land in Darien that would be perfect, but he would have to buy the land or buy the business.
Williamson didn't want to buy the business because he wanted something of his own, but he knew he didn't have enough money to buy the land. So, his mother offered to put the house up as collateral for the land.
"Thanks, no pressure, Mom," Williamson, 57, owner of Uncle's Deli in Darien, said, laughing.
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He opened the doors to Uncle's at 1041 Boston Post Road on Sept. 13, 1987, and hasn't looked back. For two years he was in the deli from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and from the reactions of citizens, it looks like his hard work paid off.
After the morning rush on Tuesday, Williamson sat outside the deli and just about everyone who passed by said hello.
"I love all the people. It's all about the customers and getting to know them," Williamson said of his favorite part of the job.
Today, in addition to the deli itself, Uncle's Deli runs a food stand at Weed Beach and the cafe at the Darien Library. Uncle's serves everything from breakfast bagels and eggs to lunch sandwiches, all of which are over-stuffed.
Williamson isn't the only one who's been with Uncle's for the long haul, either. Each of his staff members has been on board with him for at least nine years.
"They're great. This basic team is the A-team," Williamson said.
John Jacobsen, who's worked with Williamson for 16 years, said the staff knows each other so well they know what the other is thinking.
"We've been together for so long. One of us can start a sentence and another person will finish it," Jacobsen said.
As for the origin of the name Uncle's, it came from a 10-year tradition of Thursday poker nights, and the nephew of a friend. The nephew began referring to all of the men at the table as uncle and their first names, but soon couldn't remember all their names, so they all became known as uncle.
"You know how nicknames stick. Next thing we knew, we were all calling each other uncle. And when we were thinking of names, someone suggested Uncle's. I don't remember who, one of the guys we call Uncle," Williamson said, laughing.
The big-mouthed logo of the deli is one of Williamson's own creations. One of his older deli logos had a mouth with a sandwich in it, but on several occasions it caused trouble for printers for the screens on the shirt; it was a complex design. So, he simplified the design and fine-tuned it with a former employee.
Williamson was hard-pressed to think of something he didn't like about his job.
"Probably having to wake up at 4:30 every morning for two years," Williamson said, laughing.
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