Stage Left Deli on Aspen Avenue has a new name -- Aspen Deli -- and one of the youngest new business owners in historic downtown Flagstaff.
Michael Ferlaino purchased the deli in December when he was 19 and has been working hard to make it the go-to lunch place for downtown office workers.
“I really was looking to open an ice cream shop, but then our realtor showed us this place,” he said.
Ferlaino and his mother have split the ownership shares in the business nearly 50/50, but Ferlaino manages the day-to-day operations, catering business and ordering. His grandmother, who helps make the side salads and pastries at the deli, has a smaller share of the business.
“Everyone in my family owns a business,” he said. “I wanted to do something different from everyone else in my family. No one in my family operates a business in the food and hospitality field. It does make it a little difficult to ask for advice.”
In order to run Stage Left, Ferlanio quit taking classes at Northern Arizona University and started taking classes in hotel, hospitality and restaurant management at Coconino Community College.
“I don’t think I’ve turned on my TV in months,” he said. “I get up in the morning, work all day at the deli, do what studying I can, go to bed and then repeat the whole thing the next day. I’m getting Bs and Cs, which I don’t think is too bad, considering.”
Ferlanio said he’s in the process of making some changes to the deli. The shop sells sandwiches, soups, salads and drinks. He’s tracking which sandwiches and specials sell the best and which ones don’t to free up space on the menu for new items. He’s enticed one of his friends, who is a professional chef in Flagstaff, to come work with him on the menu.
He’s already added a selection of panini sandwiches to the menu.
He enticed his grandmother, Nancy Zaky, who worked for Coconino County, to leave her job and help him. And has a friend who is studying graphic design helping him with the new signs and logos.
“She used to have a catering business back in the 1970s,” he said.
He plans to switch to Boars Head Meats and sell meat by the pound in the future.
“They have less of a selection but a higher quality of meat than what I’m currently purchasing,” he said.
The bread for the sandwiches arrives daily from Village Baker. The coleslaw is mixed in individual servings before being delivered to customers. He’s also moving toward more soft drinks that are served in bottles rather than through a soda fountain.
He’s working on getting a liquor license to sell beer and wine at the deli, but may have to wait a bit longer for that. The state of Arizona requires that the manager of a restaurant be at least 21 in order to purchase alcohol in bulk. Ferlanio is currently 20 and won’t turn 21 until the end of the year.
“I’m trying to make it a little more gourmet,” he said.
He also has plans to change the signage on the building to reflect the deli’s new name. He’s just waiting for the sign designs to get the OK from the city.
Ferlaino is focused on providing good customer service.
“I have a rule that if a customer comes to the door and there is someone in the shop, that employee has to serve that customer, even if we closed five minutes ago or we don’t open for five minutes,” he said.
The deli also has “sorry” cookies, fresh cookies that they give to customers who have to wait a bit longer than usual to get their food.
“We have a tiny oven that can toast two sandwiches at a time and it takes five or six minutes to toast a sandwich properly,” he said.
Ferlaino said he takes the time to talk with each of his customers.
“I really want this to have that ma and pa feel,” he said.
He hopes to eventually branch out into other business ventures in the future, but for now, Aspen Deli is keeping him busy.