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Maxie’s Delicatessen co-founder Steve Robbins on soup smugglers and customer service

‘The delicatessen is just a home away from home,’ he says.

Maxie's co-founders Steve Robbins and Joyce Ann Silva.Handout

At 70, Steve Robbins isn’t ready to retire: He’s still happiest behind the counter at his Stoughton delicatessen, Maxie’s, which turned 30 in May. Alongside partner Joyce Ann Silva, he serves longtime customers, a few luminaries, and the occasional soup hoarder.

“We’re a destination. So when people want to come in, we’ve got huge matzo balls, homemade knishes, and stuffed cabbage,” he says.

When he’s not working, the dad of two enjoys watching classic TV with his cat.

Why the restaurant business?

I grew up in the business, number one, and I always wanted to have a delicatessen — not a deli — that would feature homemade specialties, things we do from scratch. Our customer base now runs from generation to generation. We pride ourselves on quality and quantity. We have a great customer base.


Wait a second: What’s the difference between a deli and a delicatessen?

A delicatessen is known to make things themselves. We make everything from scratch.

Which businesses did your family run?

My grandparents always had restaurants, and I worked in them. I like the socialism — not the socialism! — the social contact. I like dealing with people and the warmth of the atmosphere. I know everyone; I know their families. I pride myself on knowing and greeting every customer and working the floor. I make them feel wanted and satisfied.

In the old days, they owned the Fox and Hounds restaurant on Beacon Street. They had a steak house on Stuart Street. They had the Lobster Pound on the Cape. As a child, I was brought up in the business, and I always liked the interaction.

What’s your best-seller?

Our knishes. Our brisket, our soups, our Romanian pastrami, which we’ll put up against anybody. The matzo balls are huge. We sell a lot of matzo balls. Lots of chicken soup. When the family is not feeling good, they come right in for some Jewish penicillin. It’s nice to always see the families through the generations.


Any memorable customers?

The most memorable customer has to be Sherm Feller, the voice of the Boston Red Sox. He was here for many years before he passed away, and he was a good, loyal customer. He was one of my favorites. He said, “Steve, ya gotta serve warm maple syrup!”

Let’s talk a little bit about how to stay relevant and how to make a living in the restaurant business right now, especially through COVID. How have you stayed around so long?

We do a hell of a takeout business. I do a lot of funerals and shivas. And the deli is the one that really made us survive through COVID because we did a lot of takeout business; that’s what mainly kept us afloat. Business is off dramatically, but it kept us afloat.

What’s the role of a deli in the food world?

Some people love to be a glutton for a day. Some people just love the quality we serve. You know, they come in, and our sandwiches are huge, and they love to bring their friends in and introduce them to me. It makes them feel good. The delicatessen is just a home away from home. Make a table, sit at a table, make a friend, you know? People sit down with each other. So it’s a very, very warm atmosphere. People like that.


We have breakfast items that are unique to anyone. We have eggs bennies, pancake wraps, a Reuben knish with corned beef, Swiss cheese, and Russian dressing on the side. It’s absolutely delicious. That’s one of our signature items.

How do you stay healthy? Do you eat your product?

I’m pretty good actually. And all deli products are gluten-free.

Any advice for going into business with someone?

I’ve been working with Joyce for over 40 years. She runs the back of the house and does all the specialty cooking. It works out well.

This doesn’t happen too often. Everybody has their own way of doing things. I don’t know whether I would take a partner or not. I mean, you know, I’m only used to what I have.

People do not want to work today. That’s the big problem. They don’t want to be hands-on. I had a professor come to me about two years ago, and he wanted me to do a lecture in his business class on what I do, he said, because frankly, they don’t have a clue. They go behind a computer. So they want to know how to run an operation without a computer, taking people’s advice, and working close with all different kinds of people. I’ve had many families insist that their kids work here so they could get a feel of the different types of customers and the interactions, stuff like that.

When you’re not working, what’s your life like?


I’m always working on something. I just don’t have that much spare time and, honestly, I’m here all the time. But I love it. You have to love the business. That’s the main ingredient. What I love about it is the interaction with people, with families. I work the floor a lot. You have to be on the floor; my eyes and ears are everywhere.

I have two children. My daughter lives in Florida. My son lives in Marlborough. He’s a diesel mechanic. I have a cat who’s my best friend. When I leave here, we relax at home with him and go out on the deck, and it’s just beautiful. I overlook a pond. That’s my enjoyment.

Favorite restaurant growing up?

Jack and Marion’s in Brookline, because I grew up in Brookline; I lived right in Coolidge Corner. After school, we’d go there every night. We’d go to Ken’s, used to be right on Boylston Street.

What’s your favorite snack?

Oh gosh. Wow. I’m not a real snacker. I’ll have some cheese and crackers or something. That’s about it.

Favorite TV show?

I watch a lot of the old shows I liked growing up … Yesterday, I watched “Laverne & Shirley” — stuff where you don’t have to think and just laugh. “Seinfeld” is my favorite.

You’re not like the soup guy, though?

I am! There was a customer sitting in the other end of the restaurant the other day, she ordered cabbage soup. We have a senior special: All the soup you can eat and a half a sandwich. So next thing I know, she’s ordered another cup of cabbage soup. Next thing I know, she’s ordered another cup. She had a thermos! She was pouring in cabbage soup. I said: “No soup for you!” Oh, yeah. I’ve got a lot of stories.


Any other wacky customers?

I had a woman who ordered a grilled chicken on a salad. She said she didn’t like it, so the server went to take it away. She said, “What are you taking it away for? I’ll give it to my dog!” There are characters, let me tell you.

Kara Baskin can be reached at Follow her @kcbaskin.