Editor’s note: Amanda Ostuni strolled around Sea Cliff Tuesday gathering profiles of people in the community as part of newsday.com's Town Focus series.
Ronald Collura, 54, is a resident of East Rockaway and for the last nine years has owned Arata's Delicatessen & Cafe on Sea Cliff Avenue.
How did you come to own the deli and what was it before you became owner?
The building came up for sale and the deli was up for sale. We took advantage and bought everything and it was a nice town. The deli's been here since 1906. We kept the previous name. Before us the deli was owned by a family named Gillis. Before them was a family named Stein and before them was the Aratas. I didn't even know the town existed until I came to look at the deli. I knew the previous owner.
Did you own a deli before this one?
We had a deli in East Rockaway years ago when the kids were little. We have one in Baldwin now. We had sold the East Rockaway one a while back and had gotten into a different business [he worked as a contractor and had an Italian bread route] and we came back and got back into this business with our sons when they were older. It's just my family working here now -- my wife and my sons.
How big is your family?
I have six children: Cynthia, Ronnie Jr., Jonathan, Christopher, Matthew and Joseph and three grandchildren: Anthony, Adriana and Francesca. And my wife, Rachel.
What about Sea Cliff helps the deli thrive?
We're right across from the village square -- the library's right there... They have the tree lighting over here in December and on the Fourth of July they read the Declaration of Independence out there, so it's a nice little spot. In June everyone in the village has a yard sale and they advertise it and get thousands of people here and it's just one big yard sale. They take people on tours of the different gardens in town. During the Christmas season they have the old Victorian houses decorated so they take people on tours of them. Then in October they have a mini-mart where they close the street for the day. And there's thousands of people here, it's unbelievable -- they have bands on the street. Just last week they had an actual arts and crafts fair at -- they call it Hippie Park. There's a lot of little things that go on during the course of the year that help us out.
Is there a particularly popular item on the menu?
The paninis, the burgers, the wraps, we sell a lot of but the specialty sandwiches. A lot of people come in for Buffaloes, the Bronx Bombers, Matty's Choice -- named after my son Matty. Each son has a sandwich named after them.
Are most of your customers regulars?
Yeah, we get a lot of regulars that come in. You know a regular when he comes in and orders a Buffalo, doesn't even look at the menu. We still have a book where people charge stuff to the book and people pay me at the end of the month. Sometimes you get stuck, sometimes you don't but it's something that's old school. I don't think you get that much in other delis. Those kinds of delis are gone.
Has the deli undergone any changes recently?
We're probably going to be redoing the inside eventually -- modernizing all our cases, changing it around a little bit on the inside. We're just waiting. Times haven't been the best.
What's it like working in a small community like this?
Full-time, you work more than full-time even. But that's what you got to do sometimes, you got to take business from where you get it. People come here for a reason. They come in because they know you. They come in for a cup of coffee because they like the owner, they want to kid around with the owner.
What makes this Sea Cliff deli special compared to your other ones?
Well it's more personal here because it's right in the village. We'll get somebody that comes in all the time like this guy Jimmy. He was a retired vet, he would come in all the time and he'd get the same thing. One time he came in and my wife saw him and she said, “You don't look good, you should sit down.” He was in his 70s. We called a friend of ours that was an ex-vet who saw him and took him to the vet hospital and four or five days later he died in the hospital. You know, you see him every day, you know something's wrong. You get personal, you get that a lot. It's more personal. It's not like you just come in here. Sometimes people come in and won't even buy anything they just want to see us. You get characters in the deli all the time. There's people that will say this place should be in a reality show.
Above: Ronald Collura, 54, right, and his son Matthew Collura, 23, both of East Rockaway, work at Arata's Deli, a family deli at Sea Cliff and Central avenues in Sea Cliff. (July 10, 2012)