Gina Ruggiero’s tastes run hot and cold.
Sausage parmigiana sandwiches and waffle fries represent the heat of her moments. Chef’s salads and tuna subs give her time to chill.
During the noon lunch hour, Ruggiero and other countermen and women at Ruggiero’s Pizza, Deli & Catering slice, stack, sauté, bake and wrap plenty of dietary diversions. At noon on Wednesday, customers began filling the delicatessen in Socha Plaza off Saratoga Road in Glenville.
Ruggiero, 36, who graduated from Niskayuna High School in 1993, said January can be both busy and slow.
“It’s hit or miss, you never know,” she said while dressed in a gray, double-buttoned chef’s shirt, black apron, blue jeans and gray sneakers. “Especially after the holidays. I don’t know if people are trying to slim down or save money. Maybe both.”
Mark Giammattei of Selkirk prepared to add calories and spend money at 12:02. He and Ruggiero exchanged New Year’s greetings — he’s been a customer since the deli opened as Socha Deli in 1989. Giammattei ordered a veal parmigiana sandwich, which went into the kitchen’s pizza oven for a few minutes, and Giammattei sat down at one of the place’s seven tables.
There were four people on the lunch shift, and there’s generally a Ruggiero on duty. Tony and Ida Ruggiero started the business and are helped by daughter Gina and sons John, Joe and Tony Jr. A second family deli is open in Guilderland, on Carman Road.
Mark’s sandwich baked, and customer Bill Rue was next in line. He wanted a roast beef sandwich, but didn’t get it. Ruggiero decided the turkey was healthier for her friend, who protested only mildly. It sounded like a discussion that had been conducted before.
‘A good sandwich’
“Because I’m eating a good sandwich, can I have a cup of chowder?” Rue asked. The chowder was allowed. Rue thought about cheese for his turkey sandwich, but knew Swiss and provolone were not in his future. “She won’t give it to me even if I ask for it,” he said, smiling.
At 12:10, Colleen Boudreau of Glenville decided a chef’s salad would hit the spot. Ruggiero rolled up slices of turkey and ham and added them to a circular aluminum tin full of lettuce, onions and tomatoes.
“Colleen, what kind of dressing did you want on this?” Ruggiero asked from behind the counter.
“Balsamic,” answered Boudreau, who picked up lunch to go a minute later.
Ruggiero knows all the business formulas and specials. The chicken cutlet wrap comes with roasted red peppers, provolone and mozzarella cheeses. The overstuffed Reuben is served with pastrami, sauerkraut, Swiss cheese and Russian dressing. The turkey gobbler is turkey, cranberry mayonnaise and home-style stuffing — “It’s like a great big Thanksgiving dinner in a sandwich,” Ruggiero said.
She thinks the deli has built such a loyal customer base because foods are fresh. Breads and rolls are baked every morning; macaroni, potato and other salads are made on the premises. The Ruggieros also roast their own meats.
Calls and questions
At 12:18, Ruggiero answered the telephone behind the counter. A customer wanted two hot chicken wing sandwiches. “Mild, medium or hot,” Ruggiero asked, writing down the specifications. “Anything else? French fries, we have small or large. And waffle fries. Anything else? What’s your name? You’re going to pick it up? Give me 20 minutes.”
Ruggiero prepared the chicken sandwiches, topping them with cheese and spices. She wrapped each 24-ounce sandwich with aluminum foil and pushed them into the deep heat of the oven at 12:25.
Ruggiero added that while she makes cold sandwiches and salads with latex gloves, state regulations say foods going into the oven can be handled without gloves. “That’s why we foil them before they go into the oven, so we don’t have to handle them again,” she said. “We wait five minutes, until the cheese is golden brown.”
Lunch usually comes with questions. Ruggiero always has something to say to her fans.
“ ‘What kind of dressing would you like on this?’ ” she said. “We must ask that 150 times a day. We want to give people what they want, so we do ask a lot of questions. I think that’s why we get to know our customers as well as we do.”
At 12:40, Ruggiero bagged a loaf of bread for a customer. At 12:41, Ryan Quick of Glenville requested a capicola sub and a small order of macaroni salad. Ruggiero stacked, sliced and wrapped, then rang up an $8.97 sale, returning change from a $20 bill.
Giammattei paid his tab at the same time. “What else did you have, Mark?” Ruggiero asked, adding up her customer’s extra snacks for an $11.13 total.
Enjoying her work
Jay Hayner of Rexford was next in line.
“May I help you?” Ruggiero asked.
“I’d like a bowl of the greens and beans,” Hayner said.
Ruggiero ladled out the hot goods. “Do you want crackers with that?” she asked, bringing bowl to counter. “Sure,” Hayner answered.
Most of the deli’s tables were occupied. The tables outside, on the sidewalk in front of plaza stores, were empty.
“On some December days, we had people sitting outside,” Ruggiero said. “We’re waiting for that first really big snowstorm to bring them in.”
Just before 1 p.m., Richard Murray of Esperance walked to the deli counter. Like other clients, he knows the Ruggiero staff. “What would you like, Richard?” Gina asked.
“I was thinking about the chili,” Murray responded. He decided on a hot sausage, onion and pepper sandwich instead.
Ruggiero walked into the kitchen and started to sauté the onions and peppers. “Cooking is something people either love or hate,” she said. “I love it.”
“On the Clock” profiles people at work in the Capital Region by spending one hour with them on the job. Nominate a friend or co-worker by contacting Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at [email protected]