Leaving the European country of Georgia in 1998, Natea Markhvaidze, 52, had dreams of opening a deli one day.
In August, her dream came true when she purchased the former Duffy’s Deli on Route 58 in Riverhead.
The deal took a year to finalize, but it was worth the wait, she said, because the building came with everything she needed — from existing customers to a strategic location.
“I went to a lot of locations,” Ms. Markhvaidze said. “You know when you have a feeling that it’s going to be yours one day? I never gave up.”
Natea’s Deli combines the previous Duffy’s menu with newer traditional Georgian items, the Riverside resident said. It features items such as Turkish coffee, cheesy bread, soups, pastries and more.
Although her goal is to treat customers to traditional Georgian food, Ms. Markhvaidze is expanding the menu slowly rather than changing it all at once.
“It’s the same menu because it’s the same customers,” she said. “We’re introducing some traditional food slowly and so far people like it.”
Ms. Markhvaidze’s best friend, 28-year-old Mayela Sandoval, has joined her as a manager. They met about 10 years ago when Ms. Sandoval worked at a local pharmacy Ms. Markhvaidze frequented, and now they form the “team players” that made the deli possible.
Both women previously worked at other delis and restaurants on Long Island.
Typically, Ms. Sandoval works the counter while Ms. Markhvaidze handles the cooking, which currently includes grinding coffee each morning, making pastries and soups, cooking meat for sandwiches and more. In the future, the deli will also bake its own bagels and bread for sandwiches, Ms. Sandoval said.
“I want [the deli] to feel like home,” said Ms. Markhvaidze, stressing how important it is to her that all the food is made in-house. “Fresh, like a mom or grandma’s food,” she said.
Natea’s Deli will deliver across the Town of Riverhead anytime during its 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. business hours. The deli also caters traditional Georgian food, including pickled tomatoes, baklava, shish kabobs, soups and more. Ms. Markhvaidze said that Georgian food typically contains a lot of herbs and spices.
Duffy Griffiths still owns Duffy’s Deli in Jamesport and works at Greenport Harbor Brewing Co. He said he sold the Riverhead location because balancing three locations was getting to be a lot. Although he no longer works at the Riverhead location, he believes it is “in good hands.”
“She seems very nice,” Mr. Griffiths said of Ms. Markhvaidze. “I could tell she was going to be a hard worker and she was very enthusiastic about it.”
The menu isn’t the only thing that has changed in the store. Without closing, even for a day, Ms. Markhvaidze replaced the black concrete floor with tan tile and rearranged the layout.
For Ms. Markhvaidze, one of the goals of the deli was to bring Georgian cuisine, which is very popular in Brooklyn, to Long Island.
So far, she said, the response has been positive.
“People like the changes, that we’re refreshing the menu,” she said. “I like when it sells. I like when people are happy and say, ‘Thank you.’ I appreciate it.”