By Elle McLogan

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – In 1922 in Brooklyn, Italian immigrant Nick Defonte bought a corner store for $100. That store became Defonte’s Sandwich Shop, a Red Hook icon.

Today, his grandkids run the original deli along with a second Staten Island outpost.

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At Defonte’s, staff and longtime customers bring all the boisterous conviviality of a family reunion.

“You walk in here, and it’s like you’re transported back in the day,” said Vincent Defonte, the shop’s social media manager and the founder’s great-grandson. “There’s people yelling left and right. There’s sandwiches being thrown.”

“The whole neighborhood knows us. If anybody needed anything, we’re always there for them,” Nicholas said.

At Defonte’s, big energy is topped by even bigger sandwiches.

“We’re pretty famous for our potato and egg with mozzarella,” said owner Nicholas Defonte.

Roast beef and prosciutto are pilled high on Italian loaves. The steak pizzaola is simmered in gravy, baked in the oven, and topped with house-made mozzarella.

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Defonte’s sandwiches are in demand even across state lines.

When Vincent was a student at the University of Delaware, he often took sandwich orders from classmates, drove for hours to Brooklyn to pick up the sandwiches, and brought them back to campus.

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For him, the most special thing about Defonte’s is its history. In homage to the institution, he has an image of the original building tattooed on his inner bicep.

Vincent Defonte’s Tattoo of His Family’s Deli (credit: CBS2)

Multiple generations are represented both on staff and in the customer base.

“Guys come to me and say, ‘I remember my father took me here forty years ago or fifty years ago. And now, they’re bringing their children,” Nicholas said.

The secret to nearly a century of success?

“Enjoying what you do. We love putting out good sandwiches,” Vincent said.

“I’ve been working here such a long time,” Nicholas said. “You got your bad days, but most of them are all good.”

Defonte’s of Brooklyn
379 Columbia Street
Brooklyn, NY 11231
(718) 625-8052

Defonte’s of Staten Island
95 Water Street
Staten Island, NY 10304
(718) 285-4310

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Elle McLogan