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Remembering Emilios


Talking is definitely part of the experience. Take yesterday’s conversation, for instance.

"MacDonald’s is a culture bomb," Emilio was telling a customer who had just returned from Rome. "Everywhere they build one, the culture disappears. It’s that smell. It draws the grandmothers, and they get a little toy for the bambino, and there’s no need to cook anymore."

When Emilio is tired of talking and cooking, he begins dropping hints

"I gotta get out of here. I can’t do this anymore," he says. "Emilio needs a vacation. Emilio needs a life."

Then days or weeks later – you can never tell -- the door is locked. The "Yes, We're Closed" sign appears, and the waiting begins. As Emilio’s vacation continues, hungry soul-starved customers begin to cluster on the front steps like zombies from a Dawn of the Dead movie. Some standing on tip toes, hands cupped over their eyes peer into the darkened store to see if Emilio is just pulling a prank.

Every time this happens (and the vacations seem to be getting longer) a couple hundred of us fear we've seen the end of the Emilio era. Nobody else is going to open a little Italian grocery store in Portsmouth again. And should someone be crazy enough to try, he still won't be Emilio.

"He's a throw back to another time when a store didn't have to be new and improved," says David Balkin, a regular at Emilio's since the late 1970s. I've known Dave as a marketing guy, a fundraiser, a radio talk show host and a newspaper columnist. He is also a serious Emilio addict.

"The quality of the food is excellent. The place is spotless. When I was a kid growing up in Boston, every store I went into was like that. People knew who you were. It was just part of doing business."

"When you think about it, " Dave says, "he's the counter man, the cook, the cashier, salesman, marketing guy, janitor, carpenter, bookkeeper. Emilio is a therapist, a teacher, a madman."

Emilio does get help from his wife Linda, known to some as Mrs. Emilio. Each of their four children have helped in the store from time to time, including Little Emilio, the youngest. But none have taken up the madman mantle.

"This can’t go on forever," Emilio says.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018 
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