by G. Jack Urso
In 2020, archeologists excavating in
the ruins of Pompeii discovered an ancient Roman thermopolium, where hot
ready-to-eat food was sold — sort of the equivalent of a fast-food take-out
restaurant. According to a Dec. 16, 2020, France 24 article, its
well-preserved state presents a colorful array of frescoes as well as the
remains of such food and accoutrements as “duck bones, fava beans, wine, and a
paella-style dish of pork, goat, bird, fish, and snail, alongside cooking
dishes, flasks, and storage vessels.” Thus far, approximately eighty such thermopolia
have been discovered at Pompeii.
It’s not too far a reach to conjecture
that some of these thermopolia were owned by a single enterprising merchant or
a merchant family with relatives running various franchise locations. Who
the owner of this particular thermopolium was is unknown, yet it must have
represented years of hard work. Perhaps it was generational, with the thermopolium
being handed down from one family member to another for decades. In one day,
however, it was over. The long years of hard work and a family legacy vanished
in an instant. We may never know who they were or what lessons their lives
could have taught us about Roman business practices and the dreams and
struggles that come along with it.
While we have the tools to record our
history, we have a responsibility to do so, even if the topics might seem ephemeral.
Reading this article reminded me, in a roundabout way, of Big Dom’s Subs, a
long-lost chain of submarine sandwich shops in the Capital District area (centering
on Albany, NY) from the 1960s to 1991. In the great scheme of things it is
barely a blip in the historical record, yet in recounting the history and
operations of the company we can learn a lot about business practices at the
time, local culture, and the hopes and hard work of many that came to an
In the interest of full transparency, it
should be noted that I write this article having had some past experience with
Big Dom’s Subs and the Basile family who operated it. I worked as a sandwich
maker in eight locations. My mother and I cleaned the corporate offices
as well as the homes of company president Dominic (Big Dom) and younger brother and vice president Joe (Li’l Joe) Basile.
My brother and sister also both worked at Big Dom’s, my brother as a shift leader.
In the early 1970s, my mother and some of her friends met
at Dom’s sister’s (Roccatelle/Rocky) apartment Friday nights in sort of a New
Age book discussion group. I believe it was Rocky who recommend my mother to clean Big
Dom’s offices in the basement at 19 New Scotland Avenue. Becoming a trusted
worker, they continued to employ my mother at the various locations of their corporate offices whenever they moved as well as Dom's and Joe's private homes, which I helped her do in addition to cleaning the offices.
Dominic and his wife, Jeanette, affectionately
nicknamed Birdie due to an abbreviated form of her maiden last name, Burdick, and her love of owls, made an immediate
impression with her slim figure contrasted with Big Dom’s large frame. Both Dom and Joe sometimes gave my mom an extra case of some food or beverage samples they
had leftover. As she was on a tight budget, it was always appreciated.
The Basiles were very kind. They had a vacation home in Miami, Florida, they allowed us to use for one memorable month in the summer of 1973. They also gave my
mother work after her divorce when all she had was a sixth-grade education and no work experience in nearly two decades outside the home. My
mother continued to clean their offices and homes through 1985 when Birdie
asked my mother to live in her old family home in Delhi, NY, as a house sitter.
For my mother, who grew up on a farm in Sicily, it was a return to her roots in middle age. The home seemed as though it saw little change since the 1930s. It was like stepping back in time.
Finally, as a side note, the Big Dom’s
location at 1825 Central Ave., Colonie, NY, on the corner of Vly Rd., was later
occupied by my Uncle Jim Urso in the 1990s for his last business venture, “Jim’s
Submarine Sandwiches Inc.
According to Bizapedia and various Times
Union (Albany, NY) articles, Walt's Submarine Sandwiches, Inc., the corporate parent for
Big Dom’s Subs, officially registered as a New York Domestic Business
Corporation by Dominic Basile and Walter Austin on
April 17, 1968. This is the year typically given in articles in the Times Union, which also lists 283 Ontario Street as the location of the first store; however,
according to my research of the Albany City Directories and other sources, when Walt's Submarines Sandwiches first started, and where it was located, is complicated story.
As noted in the Albany City Directories, Walt Submarines was actually first listed as a business in 1964 with Walter Auster as the owner, and at 271 Ontario Street (see images 1 and 19), not 283 Ontario. This places Walt's in business at least four years before incorporating with Big Dom. Additionally, page 7 of the September 18, 1964 edition of the Albany Student Press (click on link and see image 8) includes an ad for Walt's Subs, putting the store in business prior to 1968 with the copy inferring a possible start date before 1964, though after the 1963 city directory had been compiled.
|Image 1: 1964 Albany City Directory listing for Walt’s Submarine Sandwiches.|
I went back into the 1950s, but Walt's Sub's is not listed before the 1964 directory. Additionally, while Walt's is listed in the 1964 and 1965 directories, and at 271 Ontario, the store is not listed in the 1966 directory. After skipping a year, Walt's reappears in the 1967 Albany City Directory, but this time at its new address at 283 Ontario (see image 2).
|Image 2: 1967 Walt's Submarines listing (Albany City Directory).|
The city directories typically list the owner/owners of a business and only Austin is listed. Dominic Basile was added to the list in 1968. Oral history has it that Big Dom first
met Walt while delivering meats to the sandwich shop — Dom saw a great business opportunity and joined up with Walt. The fact that Walt’s Submarine Sandwiches is listed four years before incorporation suggests that there may indeed be some truth to the story. In addition to its subs, Walt's was also known for its lemonade, a product that disappeared during the Big Dom years.
|Image 3: Walt's Submarines Sandwiches advertisement (circa 1972).|
I was not able to find out how long
Walter Austin remained with the company. His name disappears from the
directories in 1971. Based on my experience with the company, I believe the
relationship ceased by the early 1970s, though that is just speculation. I was not able to find any other
information about him.
|Image 4: 1971 Albany City
Directory entry with Joe Basile listed.|
According to the Albany City
Directories, by 1970, Walt’s Subs added a store at 954 Central Ave. The
directories also list the owners of the business. In 1970, Walter Austin is
identified as the president and secretary of Walt’s Submarines Sandwiches Inc. and
Dominic Basile as the Vice President. In the 1971 directory, Walter Austin
disappears from the listings and Dominic Basile moves up to president and
Interestingly, Joe Basile is listed for the first time in the 1971 Albany City Directory (see image 4), though no position with the company is noted. As noted on the Basile Family
website, in 1972, Joe Basile bought 35 percent of business from his brother
Dom. Times Union articles dating to
the time of the breakup of the brother’s business relationship in 1988 reported
it to be 32.5 percent, Joe is listed as the vice
president, indicating he worked at the store a year before buying into it.
|Image 5: Walt's Submarines Sandwiches advertisement.|
According to the caption for the photo
from the Albany Area Archives (see image 6), the Ontario Street location was
still named Walt’s Subs in 1973. If the date is accurate, then the Basiles
continued to operate the sub shops as Walt’s Submarine Sandwiches until the Big
Dom brand roll out. When exactly the Walt’s Submarines shops were renamed Big
Dom’s is not clear. The Albany City Directories only list the company as Walt’s
Submarines Sandwiches Inc., which remained the corporate name. Big Dom's was regarded as division of Walt's Submarine Sandwiches, Inc.
The Albany City Directories list the 283 Ontario Street address as late as 1976 (see image 9), but according to the
Albany history blog Doc Circe Died For Our Sins (click link for article), by 1977 Big Dom's moved from the original 283 Ontario Street location to 846 Madison Avenue, on the corner of Ontario and Madison. 283 Ontario Street is just half a block away from 846 Madison. At least tweleve businesses preceded Big Dom’s at the Madison Avenue location since its
first reported tenant in 1888.
Image 6: Walt's Subs. 283 Ontario Street in 1973. Image 7:
283 Ontario Street in 2021. Now a vacant lot.
While that seems cut and dry, the matter regarding the Ontario Street location gets even more complicated with the aforementioned advertisement in the September 18, 1964, Albany Student Press newspaper announcing Walt's Subs move from 271 Ontario to the corner of Madison and Ontario (see image 8), contradicting the information in the Albany City Directory and Doc Circe's well-researched chronology of the businesses that once occupied 846 Madison. The move apparently didn't last long since it was not recorded in the Albany City Directory, meaning it may have only lasted there a few months before moving back to 271 Ontario where the directories have it listed for both 1964 and 1965. What really happened is a mystery and despite my research I am unable to account for this discrepancy.
|Image 8: Sept. 18, 1964, advertisement in the Albany Student Press.|
Nevertheless, once Big Dom came aboard, in addition to the
283 Ontario Street and 954 Central Avenue locations, Walt’s added a store at 19
New Scotland Avenue in 1972, all in Albany. According to the Albany City Directory, by 1976, they were also operating
stores at 463 Troy-Schenectady Road, Latham, and 1810 Western Avenue, Westmere (see images 9 and 10).
In regards to the Western Avenue location, on Big Dom’s advertising in 1979, the address is listed as 1808 Western (see image 15). 1808 and 1810 Western Ave. are adjoining rental retail spaces. I know when I worked there in the early 1980s it was at 1808 Western Ave. Since both the 1976 advertising and the Albany City Directory list the 1810 Western Ave. address, it seems that sometime between 1976 and 1979 the store was moved to 1808 Western when the space became available.
As noted in the advertisement in image 10, at least through 1976, the stores were still branded Walt's Submarine Sandwiches, though the ad also uses Big Dom's name, suggesting the transition to the Big Dom's brand was underway.
At its height, Big Dom’s had ten locations in the Capital Region. Nine
locations were opened up by 1981, including:
1. 846 Madison Avenue (corner of Madison Ave. & Ontario St.)
Albany, NY. Originally at 283 Ontario Street.
2. 954 Central Avenue, Albany, NY (later moved to Westgate Plaza,
911 Central Ave.)
3. 19 New Scotland Ave., Albany, NY
4. 471 Troy Schenectady Rd., Latham, NY
5. 1808 Western Ave., Westmere, NY
6. 79 Broadway, Menands, NY
7. 1825 Central Ave., Colonie, NY
8. 1790 Altamont Ave., Rotterdam NY
9. 1419 Broadway, Schenectady, NY (opened 1988)
10. Congress & Third Street, Troy, NY
Additionally, a concession stand was located
at J.B. Scott’s, 321 Central Ave. Albany’s famed nightclub which, despite its
brief existence from 1979-1982, saw such acts as Bryan Adams, Buddy Rich, Count
Basie, Iggy Pop, John Lee Hooker, John Mellencamp, Judas Priest, Meat Loaf, Pat
Benatar, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Go-Go's, The Ramones, Thin Lizzy, and U2,
among many more. Included in that number was Albany’s own New Wave and
Soul/R&B band, Blotto, who achieved some modest fame for its song "I
Wanna Be A Lifeguard,” noted as being among the music videos played the first
day of MTV’s debut.
|Image 9: 1976 Albany City
The best Big Dom’s locations probably
were most affordably run as take-out joints. A few had small counters, but
there was seldom enough room for much in terms of in-house eating
accommodations. This kept down the rent. One miscalculation may have been the
move from 954 Central Avenue, a small converted single-family home, to Westgate
Plaza, 911 Central Ave. The Westgate Plaza location had two to three times the
floor space of the 954 Central Ave. location. Even by Subway or Mr. Subb
standards, some of which do have in-house eating areas, it was large. Of
course, there was no wait staff. As with Mr. Subb or Subway locations today,
the customer got their food and sat down. The turn-over of seated customers
for this type of dining is usually high, so half the size would have
been sufficient. As it was, during my shifts at least, the eating space was
only occasionally used. It seemed like a waste of money. Notably, when a Mr.
Subb later took over the location the space was cut up and had about half the
eating space of Big Dom’s.
|Image 10: 1976 Big Dom’s advertisement and menu. Note the use of |
Dom's name though the store is still called Walt's Submarine Sandwiches.
The executive offices were originally
located in the basement of the store at 19 New Scotland Avenue, which was established sometime in 1972, or at
least that’s when it first turns up in the city directory. I recall helping my
mother clean the offices at the 19 New Scotland Avenue location, and the move in
1973 to the more palatial location on the third floor of 33 Essex Street,
behind the then-Carnavale’s grocery store (75 Watervliet Avenue) probably the
largest store of its kind in the Capital District at the time (now Harriett
Gibbons High School). By the fall of 1983, the offices moved to its final
location at 155 Exchange Street, all in Albany. My mother’s cleaning service,
and myself by default, cleaned all three locations, giving me an inside look at
The shift from Walt’s Submarine
Sandwiches to Big Dom’s Subs, gave the company an instantly recognizable name
and icon. In an era of personality-driven marketing with such characters as Ronald
McDonald, Burger King, Wendy, the KFC Colonel, Long John Silver, Arthur
Treacher, and Beefsteak Charlie, the large grinning figure of Big Dom with his
waxed handlebar mustache fit right in. Radio and TV advertising and sales
promotions pushed the product to a large blue and white collar worker and college student clientele.
Indeed, Albany itself at the time was home to no less than seven colleges and
business schools, not to mention all those state workers.
Cleaning up the offices, I was able to
see how the advertising layout worked in the era before personal business
computers. The office had a large drafting table with various sized logos and
Big Dom graphics which were cut out and organized around typewritten text,
which was then photocopied and sent off to the printer or newspaper.
|Image 11: Big Dom's coupons in the All
About Albany board game (circa 1981).|
One memorable humorous TV ad introduced the “Li’l
Joe’s” line of deli sandwiches, with a reticent Joe Basile refusing to step out
from behind Big Dom. They also were one of the sponsors for a stock car at the Fonda
Speedway driven by local legend Danny Ody (see image 12, below).
|Image 12: Danny Ody and his stock car with Big Dom's logo (Fonda Hall of
There was also one planned campaign involving
a photo shoot with a beautiful young model dressed in a tight-fitting Big
Dom's t-shirt and short-shorts. There were probably hundreds of pictures of
various poses, but as I recall none were ever used for any marketing campaign —
and the adolescent me would surely have remembered. The model
did stop by the offices once while I was cleaning it up with my mother, earning
me some not-so-gentle reminders from my mom to stop staring and get back to
|Image 13: Matchbook (author's collection).|
The great thing about Big Dom’s
was all the great food. A large professional kitchen at the New Scotland Avenue
location produced meatballs, sausages, tuna fish, seafood salad, etc., for
distribution to all the stores. Some of this work may have also been done at
the 954 Central Avenue location. A Big Dom’s truck dedicated to delivery to the
stores made its rounds every day.
|Image 14: Walt's Subs Menu — early 1970s, but post-1972. Note that |
Dom’s name is being used for marketing before the franchise name change.
The location themselves had deli slicers to cut the meats and cheeses as needed. Ovens were used to prepare hot foods. There were no dishwashers. Everything was scrubbed by hand. Speaking of hands, there were no latex gloves, and if things got busy we may not have washed our hands between orders. It was definitely a different era.
|Image 15: 1979 advertisement.|
The rolls supplied by Carosello's Bakery were some of the best I’ve ever had. My absolute favorite was the meatball sub.
In something unique for Big Dom’s, which I’ve not seen elsewhere, was that the
meatballs were rolled out into short tubes, about four inches long — basically, the size and shape of
sausages. This made for an easier to handle sandwich and better inventory
control. While in ball form, an inexact number of meatballs were used, but as
tubes one knew precisely how many “meatballs” were needed.
The variety of subs was outstanding.
In addition to cold cuts, tuna and seafood salad, and the aforementioned
meatball sub, there were also vegetarian subs, sausage and peppers, veal and
peppers, surf and turf, a pacific islander, and eggplant parmesan. Who, I ask, does an eggplant parmesan? Big
freakin’ Dom’s, that’s who.
|Image 16: 1981 advertisement.|
The Li’l Joe’s line of deli sandwiches
included the popular Reuben, hot pastrami, and “bar-b-q” beef. Fountain soda
and Very Fine juices rounded out the beverage offerings.
In addition to Big Dom as president, Joe
as vice president, Birdie as office manager, and Norman Tillman as general manager,
the executive staff also included at least four supervisors and one administrative
Each supervisor had several
locations they oversaw. The day or night shift began with the supervisors calling around to
get inventory numbers. If one location was short of supplies, the supervisor
would bring what was needed in from another store. After getting the inventory numbers, they would
call in orders to suppliers before going out on their rounds.
At the stores, supervisors would add new memorandum to a clipboard hung on a wall, discuss any new procedures, and basically handle any issue above the shift leader's pay grade. Dealing with the problems from the array of oddball customers and employees also fell on their list of duties. It was basic quality control, but without this middle-management position the stores and operations would have quickly fallen into disarray.
Shift leaders were responsible for
cashing in and cashing out and running the shift report from the register which
would show what subs and beverages were ordered. By the late 1970s all
locations were using registers with computers that could be programmed
with PLU codes assigned to each product. It made accounting for
inventory, costs, and profits more precise than the mechanical monstrosities of just a decade before. Nevertheless, a thick binder with instructions was nearby and I remember often having to crack it open to solve a problem or run a shift report.
The money was put in a drop safe
that only the supervisors had the combination to and who would pick it up on their rounds. I questioned the security of this method since the
supervisors drove easy to identify company cars which had the Big Dom logo and
name. Starting about 1981, these vehicles were yellow Ford Escorts and the black Big Dom's logo,
which were the company colors.
|Image 17: A Big Dom's t-shirt (Skreened.com). Workers wore a yellow
zip-up or buttoned short-sleeve work shirt and a yellow and white baseball hat
with the Big Dom's logo.|
The company also promoted from within,
with sandwich makers being able to rise up to shift leaders, and in some cases
to supervisor. Despite the high turnover in entry-level workers endemic in food
service, many workers stayed with the company 10, 15, and even 20 years. This was
due to a general family atmosphere that was cultivated in the company. Dom and
Joe were usually very approachable.
Still though, it was hard work. If you had an eight-hour shift you were on your feet for eight hours. The stores
were open until 2 am or 3 am Sunday through Thursday, and up to 4 am on Fridays
and Saturdays. In addition to workers and students there were also conmen,
pimps, prostitutes, drunks, speed freaks, and crackheads. The saddest were the
Moonies who came around trying to sell cheap trinkets. Invariably, these were
Asian women with limited English skills and one could not help but feel they were being
One popular perk was that employees were allowed one free sub per shift. By the early 1980s, I think that became a half (6-inch) sub, a drink, and some chips. Supervisors, who set the schedules, were usually pretty accommodating when it came to time off. Someone was always looking to pick up another shift. We also had some wide latitude when it came to dealing with disruptive customers. A short bat of some sort was usually close by under the counter. It was not company policy, but if one made its way into a store supervisors never protested.
Big Dom’s brother Lenny served as a security
consultant with the company. He was a big guy and wore a large revolver in a
shoulder holster. Lenny had the goods, so to speak. He served as a captain in the
U.S. Army as a military police officer during the Vietnam War. He was also a
combat veteran who was awarded two Bronze Star Citations for heroism and valor.
One story Lenny told of his time in Vietnam was how he made his drivers sit in the passenger seat of the jeep while he drove, so as not to be a sniper target.
Lenny took his work seriously and he was not someone to fuck around with, particularly
if he was on duty.
Considering the store hours, and the
high volume of traffic on a weekend night, the locations were
easy targets, especially since they had no security cameras. One late evening or early morning about 1980 or 1981 one young man decided to try his luck at the store on the corner of Madison and Ontario Avenue (see image 18, below) and
ran smack into an armed Lenny. One person's account on the now-defunct Times Union blogs page suggests it was the third night in a row a robbery was attempted at that location, presumably by the same individual, if the account is accurate.
18: The former Big Dom’s location at 846 Madison Avenue, |
now Madison’s Pizza
According to those I interviewed who also
recall the incident, the young man took off north up Ontario and turned left on
Yates Street. Lenny chased him and near a church shot him in the back of the
neck. On one hand, one had to respect a shot in the dark at a moving target. On
the other hand, the young man was running away. He was presenting no danger to
Lenny or the store employees, but hitting the same store three nights in a row, if true, shows a level of desperation overriding even criminal common sense. While the young man
should not have tried robbing a store, I still remember being a bit
horrified at the time.
Supposedly, if the oral history is true, the case was brought before a
grand jury, but no indictment was handed down. Not knowing the date of the incident,
I was unable to confirm the story in the Times Union microfilm archives at the Albany Public Library, so the details presented here have to be taken for what they are — unverified oral accounts.
|Image 19: 271 Ontario Street, where Walt Submarine Sandwiches |
circa 1964, now boarded up (July 2021).
In a Time magazine article dated April 5, 1982, Dom noted the seasonal challenges of running a sandwich shop as well as the expenses. The article reports an increase in rent from $300 to $350 month ($836.88 and $976.35 respectively in 2021 dollars) by local landlord Richard Gerrity. Eventually, they settled on a payment of 3,000 free sub coupons for Gerrity's workers at his nearby machine tool shop in exchange for two-year's rent. This situation exemplifies the on-going challenges Big Dom's faced in a seasonal business.
By the late 1980s, the relationship
between the two brothers got rocky. In June 1988, Joseph Basile petitioned the
courts to dissolve the business relationship between him and his brother
Dominic. According to a July 27, 1988, article in the Times Union, this action followed a decision in 1986 by the Walt Submarine
Sandwiches Inc. board of directors, comprised of the Basiles and Walter Breakell II, that Big Dom would retire from the company with Joe taking over the reins. Dom had been having health problems, not unexpected given his age and size, and the time seemed right for a change.
Unfortunately, the relationship between the brothers quickly soured. The Times Union article
cited above reported that during the two-year period Big Dom was in retirement
he and his wife Jeannette were paid $75,000 (approximately $184,211 in 2021) in
salary and benefits each year without doing any work. While one can understand
Joe’s perspective, Dom did build the company up during its first formative four
years. It was his image on all the advertising and marketing materials, even
the uniforms, so some sort of compensation was not unreasonable, if perhaps not
quite as much.
The July 27, 1988, Times
Union article goes on to state that in March 1988 Dom reasserted control of
the company in a meeting with his wife Birdie, who served as the office
manager, and general manager Norman Tillman, demoted Joe from
president to vice president of marketing. With neither Joe nor Walter Breakell
in attendance, and so not the full board, the legality of the move seems problematic.
In any event, it didn’t last long and on April 22, 1988, Dom fired his brother
Few details of the disagreement between the brothers are
reported, but according to an April 6, 1990, Times
Union article, “In June 1988, Joseph Basile asked the court to dissolve the
20-year-old corporation after Dominic Basile threatened to fire him [Joseph
Basile], freeze his salary and have him arrested if he entered the company's
headquarters.” As noted in the article, Dominic claimed Joe spent money on such
things as car repairs, a dishwasher, and some personal expenses.
Just as I can see an argument for Big Dom to continue to get compensated
while in retirement, I can also see justification for some of Joe’s expenses. Only the
supervisors had company cars and Joe, who often visited the locations, drove
his own car, as Big Dom did (easily identified with the personalized “Big Dom”
license plate). So, the car repairs seem justified. As far as the dishwasher is
concerned, it seems like nickel and dime stuff. If it was really that big a
deal the company could be reimbursed the relatively small amount of money. It did
not seem worth severing family ties over, but of course I was not there and can
only report what’s been written in the open press, which likely does not tell the whole story.
On April 6, 1990, the Times Union reported that on April 3 Big Dom's filed for bankruptcy protection citing a "cash flow problem" and "debts of $870,200 and assets of $230,683" (approximately $1,792,299 and $475,124 in 2021). That same week, New York State Supreme Court Justice Daniel Prior ruled Dominic owed his brother Joe $200,000 (approximately at least $411,928 in 2021) for his shares in the company, plus interest, starting from June 1988. The stores continued to operate for a time, but the end was near.
By Sept. 25, 1990, according to the Times Union, Joe withdrew a bid of
$260,000 (approximately $535,506 in 2021) to buy the chain. In a Feb. 8, 1991,
article, the Times Union reported,
“The Big Dom's chain closed after operating since last April under the
protection of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Albany.” The final judgement was affirmed on May 9, 1991, in a decision on an appeal filed in the State Supreme Court, Justice Prior presiding. This ruling confirmed Joe Basile was owned the $200,000 previously awarded in April 1990 for his 32.5 percent of the company, or 65 common shares.
Ironically, Big Dom’s main competitor
during the two decades of its existence, the Mike’s Submarines-Neba Roast Beef
sandwich shop chain, also went bankrupt in 1990. Increased competition from
larger regional chains such as Mr. Subb, Subway, and Jreck’s (who bought the Mike's
Neba franchise) made making a buck in the sandwich business hard going. The
sibling rivalry didn’t help either.
Altogether, Walt’s Submarine
Sandwiches Inc. endured for about 27 years as a business. Of that time, for approximately 15 or 16 years, it
was known as Big Dom’s Subs — a brief period in the region’s history. Nowadays,
one would be hard pressed to find anyone under 50 who remembers the chain. Such
is the transient nature of business.
|Image 20: Another view of the vacant lot at 283 Ontario Street, site of
the second Walt’s Sub’s location (June 2021). See images 6 and 7 for a
side-by-side before and after picture.|
Because of the marketing using the
iconic image of Big Dom himself, the company enjoyed a high profile during it’s
time. If the company had been around longer, I can see the possibility of the Big Dom name
expanding into a line of local grocery store products, such as dressings and
rebranded Italian imports. There was a lot of lost potential for growth.
Big Dom’s success allowed for him and
Joe to afford an upper middle-class lifestyle with nice homes and tuition for
private schools for their children. They worked hard on an original marketing
concept which remains a model for success for small family businesses looking
to establish a regional presence. The ending reminds me of the old
saying to never go into business with family, particularly in the food business,
as the question of ownership and responsibilities can get murky. While businesses come and go, our family relationships should transcend the
In a way, I was witness to a sort-of funeral
for Big Dom’s. It was at a house party in Albany shortly after the stores closed
for good and were being cleared out. Two acquaintances pulled up in their truck
with the large Big Dom’s sign from the store on the corner of Madison and
Ontario. The sign
was in the store colors of yellow and black and had Big Dom’s iconic image,
which could light up. On the way to the party, they saw the sign outside the
store on the curb as trash, so they took a chance and picked it up. It remained a
popular fixture for backyard house parties until everyone moved out. It was
reportedly given to an earnest young party-goer who admired it. Its current
whereabouts, if not in a landfill somewhere, is unknown.
Perhaps someday, thousands of years from now, that sign will be dug up by future archeologists, like the ones at Pompeii who in 2020 discovered that ancient thermopolium, and wonder what the story is behind the image. As I contemplate the legacy of Big Dom's Subs, I am reminded of the old Latin saying, sic transit gloria
mundi — thus passes the glory of the world.
● ● ●
WOW! Your most professional piece of its kind to date, Jack. Pulitzer Prize material in my opinion. Thank you for your excellent work. Big Dom's and the Basile's were good for alot of people in Albany and they should be remembered.ReplyDelete
As a side note, in 1989, early 1990 perhaps, when I was in prison and Big Dom's was nearing the end, I wrote Dom asking if I could borrow 100 dollars on the qt. I got the check in the mail within the week. He was the first person outside of family I made a point of seeing as soon as I returned to Albany.
What an awesome story. Thank you for sharing! He was Big Dom because of the size of his spirit, not his suit size.Delete
Fantastic read! Coming from a family of small business, though not on the scale of Big Dom’s, so much of this sounds familiar! I recall my brothers coming to actual blows in the back of the shop on a couple of occasions. It was a different time , back then. One never to be seen again. My father raised a family of 6, and ran a business, with no formal education.ReplyDelete
Thanks for reading! Yes, a very different time. Scale is important. Maybe Big Dom's expanded a bit too much too fast. Big Dom's is no longer around. Carosello's Bakery is no longer around, but Prinzo's is still going. That says a lot.Delete
Bravo on a really fantastic story! You nailed a ton of great detail and captured a Shakespearean scope in the Big Dom's saga. I remember well the ubiquitous branding and delicious fare of Big Dom's; I recall grabbing something from there on many a night after enjoying a night of music at Bogie's, which is right around the corner from where the Big Dom's Madison Avenue location was. I somehow was never aware of the robbery/shooting. Thank you so much for doing all of the incredible research and putting it all together in such an engaging way--that is far from an easy task and it is greatly appreciated!ReplyDelete
Thank you so much for taking the time to read it and your kind words. Between 81 and 83 I often worked at the Ontario and Madison store on Fri or Sat evenings and the crowd from Bogies (then Bogart's) was always entertaining, sometimes the band members would swing by. I can't say about now, but in the late 70s and early 80s the music scene at Bogies was hot and a lot of great bands passed through there.Delete
Interesting to read this, although I do already know a lot of the details as Big Dom is my grandfather. Miss him so much, but it makes me happy to remember all the cool stuff he did. I have to get one of those t-shirts!! :)ReplyDelete
Your grandfather still has the love of so many, and Birdie and Tony too. My life was much better for knowing them all.Delete
Thank you for the terrific article!! I was a student at SUNY from 1968 to 1972 and enjoyed the delivery to the campus evenings and weekends. I started working at Ontario Street in 1970 and the worked at Central Avenue until I graduated. Dom, Joe and Lenny were terrific to work for. I didn’t have a car so when they moved me to Central Avenue one of them would drive me home on weekends after the store closed. (No Uber back then!!) I recall Dom telling me that Walt needed money in the business so asked him to buy in. I recall Walt was a difficult personality So I imagine that’s why they bought him out. They made the best subs I’ve ever had. I’d always get some when I visited Albany and even bring some back home with me.ReplyDelete
Thanks and what an awesome memory Peggy - thanks for sharing! I never met Walt, he was gone by the time we met the family about 71 or 72. It would be great if I could find something out about him. Mybe someone who worked in management can fill us in sometime.Delete
I also recall Dom telling me that although he could use cheaper ingredients and make more money, making a high quality product really important to him.ReplyDelete
Yes! Dom used the best ingredients! I worked at the New Scotland store where there was a big kitchen in back where they made the chicken and seafood and tuna salads, and stored cheese and meats for distribution to other stores (something the second Central Ave location would later do in part) and we used deli slicers in every location - something that Subway is making a big deal now about switching to THIS year! Big Dom knew how to make a good product.Delete