A little piece of Italy in downtown Davis

Davis Enterprise
By Bob Schultz From page A4 | May 26, 2017

 Anne Marie and Kevin Crilly have made Zia's Deli a family affair. Anne Marie’s maternal grandparents look down from their portrait on the wall. Bob Schultz/Courtesy photo

Anne Marie and Kevin Crilly have made Zia's Deli a family affair. Anne Marie’s maternal grandparents look down from their portrait on the wall. Bob Schultz/Courtesy photo

Zia’s Deli, at 616 Third St. downtown, has received the most votes and been awarded the “Best Sandwich” in the poll now known as “Best of Yolo County” 17 times.

Considering the number of businesses that serve quality sandwiches, owners Anne Marie and Kevin Crilly are honored to hold on to that title, although they must feel a bit like the fastest gun in the West because other sandwich shops would love to take over that top spot.

Sandwiches beyond what they might pack in their three children’s lunches weren’t a big part of the lives of Anne Marie and Kevin when Anne Marie worked in banking and Kevin in telecommunications in San Francisco. A transfer landed them in Davis and when his company began talking about another transfer, Kevin and Anne Marie decided to fulfill a dream they had of owning their own business, and Davis was the place to do that.

Anne Marie’s father and grandfather both worked as butchers and owned their own businesses, and her grandmother had passed along the family recipes, so the Crilly family invested their life savings in their dream of an Italian delicatessen. Dick Winger was willing to take a chance on these first-timers in a portion of what was once Winger’s Department Store.

They opened the business in 1995 and began working six days a week to make a living for themselves and their children. Anne Marie liked being called Zia (aunt in Italian) by her nieces and nephews, and that name seemed to be a fit for the “Mom and Pop” or maybe “Aunt and Uncle” deli.

Over time all three of their children worked at Zia’s and their two younger children have been central to the success of a second store that opened five years ago at 1401 O St. in midtown Sacramento. There is also a sense of family in the people who work at Zia’s. The typical employee is a UC Davis or Sacramento State student who stays on to work from the time they’re hired until they graduate.

Anne Marie and Kevin are often visited by former employees who come to enjoy a meal, but enjoy catching Zia Anne Marie and Zio Kevin up on their life after college and after Zia’s.

Zia’s not only employs UCD students, it also is a corporate sponsor of the UCD athletics program, donating more than 300 sandwiches and other items to that program annually. Zia’s also donates food and other items to support the Davis High School athletics program.

Quality food, great customer service and giving back to the community have helped Zia’s gain a loyal clientele for not only their sandwiches and salads, but also for Anne Marie’s “large pantry” that customers see as a mini-grocery store stocked with unique and authentic ingredients to make true Italian food.

Instead of just spaghetti and macaroni you’ll find pappardelle, straccetti, linguine and tagliatelle. Look over in the deli counter and you’ll see prosciutto, mortadella, peppered salame and coppa, as well as stuffed vine leaves, gnocchi and polenta.

Desserts include tiramisu, chocolate mousse, gelato and crème brulee.

Their most popular sandwiches are the Viareggio with turkey, smoked mozzarella cheese, lettuce, tomato and Zia’s pesto-mayonnaise on your choice of breads; and the Lucca, which has turkey, prosciutto and Monterey jack cheese, among other ingredients.

They also serve a variety of vegetarian sandwiches and allow customers to create their own combinations.

Holly Davis Rodriguez and her husband, Carlos, eat at Zia’s weekly and love supporting small business owners.

“I always feel welcome at Zia’s and always look forward to coming back,” Holly says. She likes to vary her sandwich choices, but adds that her husband always gets the classic Viareggio.

If you’re looking at something more than today’s lunch, Zia’s has a growing catering business that allows you to choose from about a dozen salads, 20 unique platters, desserts and drinks. The choices go well beyond the typical offerings, with a range from antipasto skewers to zucchini fritatta, and many other options you can review at their website: ziasdeli.com.

A portrait of Anne Marie’s maternal grandparents looks down on the deli counter as if sternly, but proudly, watching the next generations carrying on the traditions that traveled with the family that came through Ellis Island from Italy to eventually settle in California.