Neighborhood deli & grocery
A Q&A with Nick Regas of Canton Importing Co.
It was 1991 and Nick Regas, then 24, had graduated from law school at Case Western Reserve University. Working for an attorney in Cleveland, he knew a law career was not for him.
As fate would have it, his father had just been talking about selling his business, Canton Importing Co., a neighborhood deli and grocery at 1136 Wertz Avenue NW. “I called dad up and told him, I’ll buy the business.’ ”
Twenty-eight years later, Canton Importing is thriving, and Regas, a GlenOak High School grad, has no regrets. In addition to running the retail store, he has created a successful secondary business supplying restaurants around Northeast Ohio with cheeses, olives and olive oil, as well as providing Mid’s in Navarre with all the cheeses for its pasta sauces.
Q. So you spent a good chunk of your childhood at that little store on Wertz?
A. “Me and my brother grew up on a rug in the back room, playing and watching TV while my parents (Sam and Pat Regas) worked.”
Q. Do you still have customers coming in from those days?
A. “We’ve been at the current (Wertz) location since 1972, but we have people coming in who were customers when my dad’s store was downtown in the ‘60s, next door to the Golden Pheasant. My dad came here from Greece when he was 23.”
Q. What do you sell at Canton Importing?
A. “Our main focus is Greek, Italian and Middle Eastern foods. Olives, olive oil, all kinds of meats and cheeses, pasta, beer and wine. We have feta cheese from Greece, France and Bulgaria and Danish blue cheese. People will buy a 30-pound container of French feta for their family. People literally drive an hour here for our phyllo dough, which is fresh and never frozen.”
Q. So business is good?
A. “This last holiday season was our busiest ever. We sold 1,400 pounds of phyllo in one month. We had three days where there were 20 people in line at the deli case for four hours at a crack.”
Q. Tell me about supplying to Mid’s and restaurants.
A. “Mid’s takes up a lot of our time. It started 30 years ago with my dad. They get all their grated Pecorino Romano from us, and some Parmesan and Asiago. The owners and people who work there are extremely loyal and conscientious. They really care about quality. They use real cheeses from Italy, not cheap stuff and fillers. We supply all the Ken Stewart restaurants and (Cleveland restaurateur) Zach Bruell. Desert Inn is one of our big local restaurants—for the size of the place, the amount of product they use is unreal.”
Q. You have family helping out at the store, don’t you?
A. “My 86-year-old father still works; my mother still helps out. My wife, Jen, helps out a lot when it’s busy—and she does practice law, two days a week. When the kids (Sam and Kate) are home, they help out too.”
Canton Importing Co.: 1136 Wertz Ave., Canton. Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more details, find Canton Importing on Facebook or call 330-452-9351.