Along the bustling throughway that is Parsippany Road stands Edward Hansberry's American Dream. A native of County Waterford, in the southeast of Ireland, Hansberry came to the U.S. as a young man in August 1968. He found Parsippany that year, made it his home and founded a business that has served him and his new community well: the Parsippany Deli. From the same location at 137 Parsippany Road, Hansberry has thrived and struggled over the past four decades plus.
"I had a dream when I came to America," he said. "It was this business, making it a success. I planned to retire when I was 59. That's come and gone now, but we're still going," he said. "Nowadays, it's getting tougher. There is a lot more ethnic variety in Parsippany now, which is good, but what we serve doesn't interest many of them. And with some businesses moving, things have really dropped off in the past three or four years."
I don't know what the answer is, but if you can weather it out and be strong, you can overcome it. Takes a toll on you," Hansberry said with a tired smile. "I'm weathering it pretty good, so far. I'm a young man still."
It is not easy, though, he said, either for him or for his two full-time and one part-time employees. Expenses are rising for him constantly—particularly, he mentioned, the price of oil, which affects every part of his business—yet he is afraid to raise his prices for fear of losing more customers.
"There used to be lots of workplaces along here, and lots of people who needed a place to have lunch," he recalled. "Now, we have a lot of empty corporate space in this immediate area, quite a bit. Lose 100 people here, 100 people there, and your lunch rush gets a lot slower."
Quality is the thing he falls back on. Economic situation or no, his primary product continues to be top-notch. The deli's made-to-order subs and sandwiches are thick and meaty, the breads fresh and flavorful, veggie toppings crisp and delicious. A cool case holds various varieties of vegetable and pasta salads that are homemade and good for body and soul.
And his prices are wallet-friendly. Basic sandwiches range from $2.25 (tomato) to $5.25 (roast beef or tuna, shrimp or seafood salad). Half-subs and layered Sloppy Joes are only a little higher.
Hansberry seems to have a watchword that gets him through tough times: diversification. In addition to a carryout lunch counter featuring all manner of traditional deli sandwiches and salads, and a catering service, the establishment features convenience-store items such as canned goods, cold beverages in bottles and cans and specialty items from Ireland and Britain. The store is filled with clutter, but the clutter is made up of fascinating and useful stuff: Irish collectibles, posters for Irish dance events, and Eire-centric knickknacks that emit a spirit that makes one happy to be there.
"Some time ago, I realized that people, particularly British and Irish people who live here, are very interested in items from the U.K.," Hansberry said, adding that he spends much of what little free time he has working with Irish dance troupes throughout the north Mid-Atlantic region. "Culture is important to people, and I enjoy being able to keep people in touch with their heritage."
Looking toward the holiday season, Hansberry said he looks forward to a merry one for the deli.
"We'll be getting in a large shipment of Irish gifts and food for Christmas tomorrow. Cakes, Black and White Puddings, bangers, all sorts of things. People enjoy that. Hopefully that will help things," he said. "For a lot of English people and people from Europe who settle here, like myself, this is about tradition, which is important. Last Christmas was down from the previous one, so I hope this Christmas we can at least do what we did last year."
But he also thinks the economic climate may not be as bad as much of the media portray it.
"I always like to see something positive. Let's not be gloomy about it. Let's be happy and work hard and make the best of it," he said, assuring us that despite everything, his American Dream is alive—and well.