Inner West Independent

Balmain deli celebrates 57 years of family and community

Papa Joe & Co. has been a fixture in Balmain for decades. Photo: Papa Joe & Co.

By BRIANNAH DEVLIN

On Saturday March 20, Papa Joe & Co opened its doors to the public to come celebrate 57 years in Balmain on Darling Street. 

Despite the endlessly heavy rain, the family business was humbled by the amount of people that turned up to the celebration of homemade Italian goods, deli delicacies, a little bit of bubbly, balloons and even a four-legged friend.

The deli, green grocer now including a generous offering of fresh flowers and pot plants, has seen generations of the Panetta family offering the warmth and service regular and new customers come for. 

Joe, his wife Maria and daughter Luisa have been getting the shop ready for people to walk through the doors. 

Joe for years and years, has been working open until close for 7 days a week. 

When he first arrived in Australia at about 16 years old, it was not his initial plan to stay in Australia, but to stay for a few years then return to Calabria. 

When he returned 10 years later, it was not the same; people he knew had gone overseas. 

So he returned to Australia. 

“After you’re here, you don’t feel like going back,” he said.

Papa Joe historic photo

Joe weighing goods in the 60s. Photo: Papa Joe & Co.

He also laughs and admits that it was not love at first sight with the shop he has been at for decades, when he came to Australia with an apprenticeship as a barber.

At the time, it was his brother-in-law who owned what is now known as Papa Joe & Co. 

“When you have white shirts [as a barber] and you’re nice and clean and you come here and work in the dust, wasn’t my job really,” he began.

“But I couldn’t find a job, I couldn’t speak English, and 57 years later here we are,” he smiled. 

Community creates home

Despite not initially loving the shop, Joe came to love the small community. 

“You know everybody, talk to everybody,” he said. 

“Now, Australia’s home after so many years.”

Joe bought family shares of the shop after relatives went overseas. 

Joe admitted that while that community spirit is still there, with him and Luisa knowing their regulars, only needing to see who it is to know their usual, it is not like it used to be. 

“Everybody knew each other, they talk to each other. Now is different. They’re rushing now,” he explained.

“Life is much busier than it used to be.”

But not all is lost. 

“We look after them, and they look after us.”

“When you know people, you trust them, and that’s why they keep coming back.”

Luisa and Joe said they love connecting with customers to learn more about their families, and have seen generations of families grow as they come to their shop. 

Joe also mentioned some customers come and take them on a trip down memory lane, talking about how much has changed and how time has flown. 

Luisa even explains that the love for their service and conversations is not just restricted to the walls of Papa Joe & Co. 

“When I was out with a girlfriend, everybody kept walking up and saying “Hello!” because they get excited when they see you out of context.”

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