Dan Cornicelli stood behind one of the five long coolers at Sal’s Quality Market in Rotterdam.
It was 11 a.m. on Thursday. There was no line at the landmark grocery and meat store on Guilderland Avenue at Draper Avenue.
Cornicelli knew lunch time was coming. People would be coming, too — ordering salads, cold cuts, sausage, steaks and ground beef.
The 22-year-old Cornicelli, an apprentice butcher and longtime Rotterdam resident, has been behind the counter at Sal’s since 2008. Slicing, packing and wrapping are parts of the job. So are constant walks behind the coolers, selecting sausages at the front fridge near the single cashier or spooning chicken salad into plastic tubs from the cold case at the far end of the store.
“Good hours, and it’s a good group of people to work with,” said Cornicelli, who graduated from Mohonasen High School in 2008. Like the other three men working behind the counter on Thursday, Cornicelli wore the store’s short-sleeved navy blue golf shirt and baseball cap. He was also wearing khaki-colored cargo shorts and navy blue Nike sneakers.
Still time for grillin’
For many people, summer is still in season. Outdoor grills are still hot spots for steaks, chicken and hamburgers, and shoppers are still preparing for weekend smokers.
Tracy Brown of Rotterdam was on a quest for steak at 11:06. She was also in a mood to marinade.
“What kind of barbecue sauce is good for a steak?” she asked Cornicelli. “I want something really good, something to soak it in all day.”
Cornicelli had a quick answer and presented a bottle of Brooks Barbecue’s Spiedie sauce, from a row of Brooks products stocked on top of the cooler. “It’s got an amazing flavor,” Cornicelli said.
He also grabbed a bottle of Braswell’s ribeye steak sauce, and presented another option for the small sirloin Brown had chosen. “I’m going to go with this one,” Brown said, staking her steak hopes on Brooks.
The steak was wrapped — first in thin plastic and then in white butcher’s paper — and Cornicelli brought his customer’s selections to the front counter. That’s part of the routine at Sal’s — counter personnel don’t hand over packages of meat to their clients. Every product gets a personal escort to the cashier.
“Full service,” Cornicelli said. “Service with a smile.”
Sausage and cheese
The apprentice quickly found another customer, at 11:10. Phil Iovino of Saratoga Springs was at the counter with mozzarella cheese on his mind. Cornicelli sliced a half-pound. “Anything else I can get for you?” he asked. “Yeah, some sausage,” Iovino answered. “Four hot.”
The customer selected a bag of rolls. He had selected sausage sandwiches topped with cheese for a future meal, and was out the door by 11:13.
By then, other people were coming into the store. The Sal’s crew began looking at the red neon numbers on the side wall, numbers that advanced as customers began clicking paper numbers from a countertop machine. They handed them over as their numbers were called.
Cornicelli’s next man needed thick slices of Sahlen’s off-the-bone ham, along with a half-pound of American cheese, a half-pound of spiced ham and 11⁄2 pounds of ground round.
Go by the list
At 11:30, a regular customer named Charlie got Cornicelli’s attention. Charlie was paying attention to a shopping list — a mission from his wife. American and Swiss cheese, chicken breasts, chicken thighs, bone-in pork chops and a ribeye steak were all parts of the assignment.
“Just want the domestic Swiss?” Cornicelli asked.
“Yeah, I guess,” answered Charlie.
“For the thighs, I’ve got legs and thighs,” Cornicelli said. “That OK?”
“Sure,” responded Charlie.
“For the steak, see one in there you like?” Cornicelli asked.
“A small one,” Charlie said. “How about the third one from the top?”
“OK,” Cornicelli said, giving the steak a quick wrap. He brought all the white packages to the cashier. Charlie produced his wallet, and Cornicelli searched for another customer.
“Sixty-two,” he announced at 11:37, and met Marcella Docherty of Schenectady. Turkey breast, bologna, American cheese, bone-in chicken breast, ground round were all requested.
Number 65’s order for ground round and five sausages was filled quickly, by 11:45. Billy McDonald of Rotterdam was number 68. Genoa salami, American cheese and turkey breast were all sliced, and McDonald was glad he had beaten the afternoon rush. “You come here on a Saturday morning, forget it,” he said.
“Seventy,” said Cornicelli, at 11:52.
“Right here,” said Mark Noack of Middleburgh, shopping with his wife, Martha.
The first order of business was six cube steaks. Then an entire chuck roast — sliced thin. Cornicelli checked the price on the 27-pound piece of meat, and told his customers it was $2.99 a pound. Five pounds of Polish kielbasa, 5 pounds of meat loaf, 3 pounds of hot loose sausage, 2 pounds of stew beef, a pound of liverwurst and a 5-pound pork shoulder roast were other parts of the Noack order.
“We come down about once a month,” Noack said. “We don’t get too much fresh stuff up our way.”
Cornicelli cut the chuck roast in Sal’s back room. After the first slice, he presented a long, inch-thick steak for Noack’s inspection. “How’s that?” asked the apprentice butcher.
“Beautiful,” answered Noack.
As noon approached, Cornicelli finished his slicing. “You got 11 steaks out of that,” he told his customers. “You want them wrapped a certain way?”
“No, I can do that when I get home,” Noack replied.
All the steaks went into the plastic wrap, and then into the white paper. Cornicelli has learned to cut steaks on the job; he’s also learned how to wrap Christmas gifts.
“I think one year I came in here and wrapped all my presents,” Cornicelli said, smiling. “All with white paper.”
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.