by G. Jack Urso
|Image 1: 1964 Albany City Directory listing for Walt’s Submarine Sandwiches.|
|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.|
|Image 5: Walt's Submarines Sandwiches advertisement.|
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.|
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 Directory listing.|
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 |
Big Dom's name though the store is still called Walt's Submarine Sandwiches.
|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 Fame).|
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 work.
|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 |
Big 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.|
|Image 16: 1981 advertisement.|
|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.|
18: The former Big Dom’s location at 846 Madison Avenue, |
now Madison’s Pizza (July 2021).
|Image 19: 271 Ontario Street, where Walt Submarine Sandwiches |
began circa 1964, now boarded up (July 2021).
|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.|
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