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  • Tara Crutchfield

Uncle Nick’s Italian Deli & Bagels

If you’ve enjoyed a fresh bagel at your local coffee shop, there’s a good chance it’s from this Lakeland deli. Off Old Road 37 is a little slice of the Big Apple – a deli and bodega featuring freshly baked bread, meals made with family recipes, and a whole lot of passion. 


“Uncle Nick” DeBellis was born and raised in the Bronx. He started working in the food industry at 14 and owned his deli, Mountain Top, in New York for 25 years. “He was so famous in such a small town,” said his great-nephew, Sam DeBellis. “He never cut down on the value of his products. He always gave the best service, the best products that he possibly could.” According to DeBellis, Uncle Nick would wake at 4 a.m. each morning and head to work at the deli. He was admired for his work ethic, uncompromising quality, and customer service. Ever the family man, Uncle Nick passed these methods for longevity and success down through generations.



Along with Mountain Top, the family owned an eatery called DeBellis Brothers with Sam’s father, Ken, his brothers, and grandfather. “We’ve been in the deli business pretty much our whole lives,” DeBellis said. Originally from the Bronx, the family sold their deli and moved to Florida from upstate New York 12 years ago. 


The DeBellis’s brought their 30 years of food service experience to the Sunshine State along with a New York feel. “Uncle Nick” DeBellis passed away 11 years ago, but his legacy lives on through his family and namesake Lakeland deli. In October 2015, Sam partnered with his father, Ken, and opened Uncle Nick’s Italian Deli & Bagels off Shepherd Road. Who better to pay homage to than the man, the myth, the legend? “He was a humongous mentor to my father,” DeBellis said of Uncle Nick. “Just was an amazing person. […] He pretty much started it all.” 


“We’re a New York Italian deli,” DeBellis said. Almost everything in the deli is made from scratch, including fresh daily bagels, sub rolls, New York Kaiser rolls, and mozzarella. “We have 25 varieties of bagels made fresh every day. There’s never a single bagel in our store that’s used the next day,” he said. They supplement their house-made offerings with imported Italian goods and New York favorites like Junior’s Cheesecake and Kimbo Coffee.



In addition to a fully operating bakery serving fresh bread, cookies, and ‘mozz,’ Uncle Nick’s offers a variety of Boar’s Head deli meat cheaper than you’d find at the supermarket. And, if you don’t feel like cooking dinner, grab a take-and-bake entrée from the case. Uncle Nick’s has three full-time employees making meals to fill the case with dishes like antipasti salad, and chicken, or meatball parmesan. Almost everything on the menu is homemade, but Sam’s favorite is the meatball parm. “Everything on the meatball parm is made from scratch. We make all our own meatballs, the fresh mozz is made in-house, and the sauce is made in-house,” he said. The recipes have all been passed down through the family, from his great-grandmother to Uncle Nick. 


And don’t skip out on breakfast and a hot cup of Kimbo coffee. “If you come in the morning, you’re not going to have a better breakfast sandwich anywhere around.” 


Uncle Nick’s is lauded for their fresh deli sandwiches, along with bagels and breakfast, soups, salads, and entrees. The ‘Vincenzo’ aka the Italian, is piled high with Boar’s Head ham, genoa salami, pepperoni, mortadella, mild provolone, and fresh mozz on a fresh ciabatta roll topped with lettuce, tomato, red peppers, and Italian dressing. We tried this big beauty during our visit. The portion was so generous we had to share it. There’s no comparison to a regular sammy when your base is fresh bread – it might be the perfect sandwich. 



Uncle Nick’s is a family-owned and operated deli with Sam, his parents, his wife, and several cousins all working to bring that New York feel to the Swan City. His 77-year-old grandfather recently retired from Uncle Nick’s, too. 


Trying to gain footing in an area with ample ‘New York Style’ restaurants, the first three years of business was tough. “You see it so much that it’s just a burnt-out saying,” DeBellis said. Then, like magic, in year four, business took off. “Lakeland has been amazing to us,” he said. “It’s been a blessing for the last eight years, for sure. Love being here.”


Aside from fresh deli delights, what sets Uncle Nick’s apart? “The number one thing is probably our customer service,” he said. “You walk in, and we just give you that home feel. A lot of our customers become family. When you come to work, you expect your regulars every day.”


“We have so many people who view us as their daily tradition,” he said. “It makes us so happy.” 

Uncle Nick’s had four locations at one time: three in Lakeland and one in Bradenton. Now, they’re focused on their Old Road 37 Lakeland locale. “We want to make this as legendary as we possibly can. We want it to be a destination location,” DeBellis said. “We want to be here forever, for sure.” Uncle Nick’s also offers flexible catering and wholesales to many businesses around the city.


He and his wife have a seven-year-old and another on the way, with DeBellis remarking, “I want to make it here for them. [I want my kids] to be able to grow up here and run this place the way we run it now.”

“We’re good at what we do, but we can always be better, and I think that’s what we focus on every day is giving the best quality products, the best service we can to every customer that comes through the door,” DeBellis said. “We love it here. We want to take care of the people. We want to take care of the community – that’s all we really care about.” 


Photography by Amy Sexson

 

Uncle Nick’s Italian Deli & Bagels 
6955 Old Rd 37, Lakeland
(863) 333-4917
FB: Uncle Nicks’s Italian Deli Bagels and Catering Lakeland
IG @unclenicksitaliandeli

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