Photo by Nathan Kelly.
0313 Mr Ps
Owner Charles Pilleteri shows off one of his original spice rubs sold at this store and other retailers.
The family grocery business has been a part of Charles Pilleteri since his youth. He grew up working in his grandfather’s store that opened in 1934.
“It was called Supreme Supermarkets,” Pilleteri said. “Everyone in our family pitched in and learned the grocery business, and over time, my dad helped run the store.”
After graduating from UAB with a degree in business, Pilleteri decided it was his time to start the family business: Mr. P’s Deli.
“My family thought I was crazy,” Pilleteri said. “They told me, ‘You got a degree, and you’re opening a grocery store? You didn’t even need to go to school for that.’”
Since then, Pilleteri has used innovation, work ethic and determination to run his neighborhood grocery store and deli from Bluff Park, still all in the family.
Pilleteri’s wife, Carol, handles bookkeeping. His son, daughter and son-in-law also work at the deli and packaging portion of the store.
The deli serves fresh-cut sandwiches, and packaged deli meats, as well as makes spices and marinades.
“We were bucking the trend, which was to get away from small grocery stores and shop at big corporations,” Pilleteri said. “When I first opened up, it was really difficult. I could have given up. It’s a lot of labor. The problem is we’re all spoiled; there are a lot of people that are not willing to work hard enough.”
In 1990 at the request of customers, Pilleteri shook his business up by creating his own seasonings, now are sold in grocery stores across Alabama.
His first concoction was Pilleteri’s Original, which is still the store’s most popular seasoning, he said.
Beyond seasonings and lunch, customers select from bargain packages of fresh steak, chicken, sausage and ground beef that change each month.
“People come in Mr. P’s for the sandwiches, and then get great deals on our meat specials,” Pilleteri said. “I came up with my homemade Italian, Cajun and breakfast sausages. This is a niche that customers couldn’t find elsewhere.”
After 37 years in the same location, Pilleteri said he has been lucky that the area around his store has flourished in recent years. The consistency of location gave him more regulars and more advertising through word of mouth, which is the most important way to run a small business, according to Pilleteri.
When Pilleteri said regulars, he meant it. He can tell you names, lines of work and kids’ names of his faithful customers. He knows families who have shopped his store spanning over three generations.
Pilleteri thinks if he had remained a fresh deli in the tradition of his grandfather, his business wouldn’t have made it this far.
“You can’t be just one-dimensional if you own your own business. You’ve got to be willing to work. If you have something unique, you’re going to have a better shot at making it. Anybody can just sell canned beans.”