Deli Duo Serves Up Community At Jason's

Tuesday, February 01, 2000

On any given day, catching Jason's Deli gurus Joe Tortorice or Rusty Coco in their corporate office is as unlikely as hot pastrami on sliced white bread.

Better to catch the cousins serving up sandwiches behind the counter.

The little local deli that now boasts 45 company-owned stores and 30 franchise operations opened its doors in Beaumont's Gateway Shopping City in November 1976.

Tortorice (Lamar M.B.A. '71), with a fresh Air Force discipline and a fondness for his Dad's sandwich shop, had figured a deli in Southeast Texas could be a unique concept. (The idea was proposed by Rogers Brothers Investments, owners of Gateway who suggested Tortorice spend some time working in an authentic deli in Houston to see if he had a feel for the business. He did.) He could not have known that in 23 years, Jason's Deli would get 75 times bigger. The company has plans to open 20 more restaurants in the Southwest (Carolinas and Georgia) in the coming year.

Fellow Lamar graduate Coco (B.B.A. '73) joined the Jason's Deli family in 1978. For years, his father had operated VJ's Foody Doody grocery store in South Park, so Coco knew about service " and variety. "We hit a lot of different palates," Coco says.

"We have people here in suits, and people who are on the highway construction crew. That?s the beauty and fun of being in this kind of business." Through the years, the growth in their menu " from 12 items to more than 60 " has come largely from their employees. Their popular catering and party tray business, Tortorice says, is an idea that came from one of their first managers.

Coco and Tortorice credit part of the success of Jason's Deli to the tradition of community they came to know first through family, and later at Lamar University. Coco compares the associa-tion he was able to build with his professors to the association that Jason's Deli owners have with their employees.

"If you can build that kind of commu-nity in your business, people don?t mind going to the ends of the would to get a job done," Coco says.

Tortorice remembers Lamar professors like Richard Cherry, Sam Parigi and Richmond Bennett as mentors who taught him that "to be successful in business, you can?t stop researching. Whether it?s food or accounting systems or whatever, you?ve got to keep learning new things." While other corporate bigwigs might opt out of the daily grind and retire in comfort, Tortorice and Coco can't fathom it. They and their Jason's Deli community are planning to be around for a long time, keeping customers satisfied and enjoying the job.

"Our employees are interested in growth," Tortorice says, "just like we are. What drives all people is hope for tomorrow."

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Jason's Deli
2400 Broadway
Beaumont, TX

Phone: (713) 780-1230

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