Mike Naumoff thinks consistency and simplicity are two important keys to success. Keep the drinks cold and the sandwiches huge.
For 41 years, Naumoff and his wife, Barbara, have run Slick’s Restaurant and Tavern at 127 Liberty St. in downtown Schenectady. The place’s motto, “Famous for Sandwiches Since 1974,” trumpets Slick’s major attraction, but just how big are the sandwiches?
“I don’t make any claims. I just tell people they’ll get enough,” said Naumoff, a 1963 graduate of Niskayuna High School. “I don’t want some nitwit coming in here with a scale calling me on a tenth of an ounce. We just eyeball it, but we put enough meat on, and we try to be consistent.”
People aren’t complaining. Getting through a Slick’s sandwich in one sitting is quite a challenge. You could nitpick about the lack of choices, but a selection of turkey, roast beef, ham, corned beef and tuna on white, wheat or rye, has been a winning formula since the Naumoffs took over the establishment from Doug Slick back in 1974.
“Meat products are like cars,” said Naumoff. “You can get the Bel Air, or you can get the Corvette. The meat product has the same name but they have different grades. We use the top of the line, and if you’re trying to sell sandwiches you better use the top of the line.”
Along with the sandwiches, Slick’s has 40 different bottled beers (domestic and imported) in stock. The building, constructed back in 1804, according to Naumoff, is on a corner lot at North Ferry and Liberty streets. While there are six apartments in the building itself, the public space is small and narrow, with seating for about 40 people.
“There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that this place has been a saloon since way back in the early 1800s,” said Naumoff. “It was called The Corner way back when, and we also think it might have been a bakery at one time. Back in the 1930s I think it was called Pat’s Grill.”
It was Doug Slick who took over the place in the early 1960s. He was a “Damon Runyonesque character,” according to Naumoff, with ties to Albany gangster Legs Diamond. Slick’s little tavern on the corner thrived. When the Naumoffs bought the business in 1974, they kept the name and had Slick and his wife, Alice, as upstairs tenants.
“I was tending bar at the Turf Tavern in Scotia, and I had been going to Slick’s for a while,” remembered Naumoff, who also worked behind the bar at the Tip Toe, Union Inn, Jimmy’s and Aerodrome.
The original plan
“Originally our plan was to cook burgers and Garofalo sausages. Well, a couple of things happened. Slick was living upstairs and he didn’t want to have any cooking downstairs. He didn’t want any gas. I also did some research and figured out it was going to cost me $4,000. I had 40 seats in the place, so that was $100 a seat. That wasn’t going to work, so plan B was the sandwiches.”
The Naumoffs had been married in April of 1974, and took over Slick’s in October of that year. The day before their first anniversary as tavern owners, they had a baby girl.
“Yeah, my life changed that year,” said Naumoff, “but we love the business. And when you love it it’s not a job.
“We almost didn’t renew our liquor license last October. Barb had a bad back, my knees were killing me. We thought to ourselves, ‘do we want to do this another two years?’ Well, we got the license renewed and now we’re feeling better again.”
Not many changes
They also haven’t altered plan B or changed much of anything else in their 41 years on the corner.
“Are you kidding — if we started making smaller sandwiches people would have a fit,” said Barb Naumoff. “We’ve been doing it for 41 years, and it seems to be working. We haven’t changed much. We thought about expanding once into next door, but we didn’t. No reason to do it.”
Former Schenectady mayor Al Jurczynski doesn’t get downtown for lunch much these days, but he does remember Slick’s fondly from when he was in office.
“That was one of the places I used to go when I wanted to impress somebody,” said Jurczynski. “If there were people coming in from out of town, I’d take them to Slick’s because the sandwiches were second to none. They stack the meat so high, sometimes you’d have to take off some with your fork so you could get it in your mouth.”
Reach Gazette reporter Bill Buell at 395-3190 or [email protected]