The History of Nardelli's Grinder Shoppe
Some sons accept their lot in life. They make the best of the situation in which they find themselves. Others may have equal regard for their circumstances, but they yearn for more. The Nardelli brothers yearned for more. In 1914, all three left the security of their home and the familiarity of their home town in central Italy. America was calling to them in a voice they could clearly hear. They pooled their meager resources and set off for a land of promise and opportunity.
After landing on Ellis Island, they quickly made their way to the thriving manufacturing city of Waterbury, CT, the "Brass Capital of the World."
Joseph, Anthony and Fred (Giuseppe, Antonio and Frederico) knew of only one way to make it in America. Hard work. Joseph, the oldest, was the first to land a job. He worked in a sweatshop (aptly named for the working conditions) to support his brothers. After a bit of networking with their neighbors, who were also recent immigrants, all three landed jobs. They worked long hours and pooled whatever money they earned. Most of the money was sent home, to help their parents.
In those days, working conditions were unregulated and hazardous for all but the managers and owners. Joe lost a finger while working in the shop and he made a pledge to himself to take his brothers out of harm’s way and find new work for all three. Soon thereafter, they started working in what eventually became Nardelli's Grocery Store on South Main.
In 1920, the store was put up for sale. Joe was interested in purchasing it and worked out the details with the owners. The agreed upon price was $22,000. In 1920, that was princely sum. With the purchase of the building, paying off the mortgage meant working even longer hours than they had been accustomed. Yet, the brothers never complained. They took pride in the quality of their fruits and vegetables, which they bought in New York.
During one of their buying trips, they noticed long lines of customers waiting to enter one of the store fronts, and a steady stream of customers emerging with something wrapped in butcher paper. Upon further investigation, it became clear what was drawing the crowds: grinders... torpedo shaped rolls that were stuffed with meat, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes.
If grinders were so popular in NYC, why not Waterbury? They decided to start selling them out of their fruit and vegetable store to determine if there was sufficient demand to keep the venture going.
They were amazed at how well the grinders sold. Soon, people were coming from all over Waterbury to get a grinder. Some days, the line would wind all the way down South Main Street. It was obvious that the brothers had created the perfect balance of "over-stuffed" ingredients and attractive prices. A combination grinder made from 1/4 loaf of bread cost 10 cents, a 1/2 loaf cost 15 cents and a whole loaf, 30 cents.
Though they had other specialties such as fruit baskets, penny candy and ice cream sundaes, they soon became known as the "Grinder Kings of Waterbury".