Issaquah family bids bittersweet goodbye after decade in business
June 28, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
Goodfellas Sandwich Shop, a decade-old gathering spot for Issaquah High School sports teams and office workers on lunch breaks, closed June 24 after owners Steve and Melinda Sanelli stacked the last sandwiches.
Steve Sanelli, a longtime South Cove resident and Issaquah High assistant baseball coach, said business was good, but the impending closure stems from a disagreement between the eatery and the building owner.
“It would be one thing if I was failing in business and we had to close,” he said. “This is something that’s not my choice.”
For Sanelli and other family members, the closure is about more than the bottom line.
“When you’re in business this long, it kind of becomes who you are,” Melinda Sanelli said. “In a way, you feel like you’re being stripped of your personality and how everyone sees you and what you stand for.”
The closure announcement came as a surprise to employees and customers.
Steve Sanelli said the building owner asked in March for the sandwich shop to vacate the space. The family plans to spend the next week packing and selling equipment.
“We have a lot of people who come in, that eat here, that are saddened by the whole idea that we’re closing,” Steve Sanelli said.
Go out with a bada bing
The husband-and-wife team opened Goodfellas in Eastgate in October 2001, and built a customer base for sandwiches and housemade meatballs and Italian sausage. The menu items’ names nod to “The Sopranos” and mobster films.
Throughout the past decade, almost every Sanelli family member worked at the eatery and so, too, did spouses and significant others. Steve Sanelli’s mother made the meatballs served at Goodfellas. (Steve and Melinda Sanelli’s children all graduated from Issaquah High.)
“A lot of kids, I don’t think, would really want to work with their parents and live with their parents, to be with them 24/7,” daughter Sicily Sanelli said. “But to be honest, it really brought all of us a lot closer together.”
Daughter Angelina Edwins, a Snoqualmie resident, recalled bringing son Brody to play in the back room during stints at the shop.
“What I’m going to miss most is being able to go drop in, have lunch and see people,” she said. “There are so many different friends and family that come in any time of day, any day of the week. You can just be sitting there eating lunch and see someone you haven’t seen in a year or two. Or, one of our good friends might walk in and you can have lunch with them. Just to be able to catch up and see people that you don’t normally see is such a great thing to have.”
Jessica Crites, Melinda Sanelli’s younger sister and a longtime employee at the store, said the upcoming closure is bittersweet.
“It’s just time for them to move on to the next chapter in their life, but boy, I’m sure going to miss this chapter,” she said.
Crites mentioned another loss: Goodfellas’ menu.
“Their food is just outstanding, I’m telling you, even if I wasn’t family,” she added. “There’s nowhere around that serves the kind of sandwiches that they serve.”
Crites and Melinda Sanelli started working in a family business early, at the former Puget Sound Baking Co. in Issaquah.
“I hate to see the fact that family business is falling to the side of the road,” Melinda Sanelli said.
Steve Sanelli used to operate Sanelli’s Deli in Factoria and, after the eatery closed years ago, he intended to open another sandwich shop.
“Between this sandwich shop and me coaching, that’s been my life,” he said. “That’s what it’s been all about.”
Many customers called for the Sanellis to reopen elsewhere, but the start-up costs to open another eatery stand as a steep barrier.
“We don’t have $150,000 to go out and gut a building and start all over again,” Steve Sanelli said.
In the meantime, he is coaching a Lakeside Recovery baseball team and Melinda Sanelli plans to continue another job at PCC Natural Market.
“We’re all proud of him and my mom, and are sorry that it had to end this way,” Sicily Sanelli said. “They ran a great company for the past 10 years. They’re going to do great things, I know that.”
Ready to serve neighbors
In addition, the family is ready for a long-overdue vacation — a hopeful prospect amid the many tasks necessary to shut down Goodfellas.
“We’ve been married to this business for 10 years,” Melinda Sanelli said. “We haven’t been able to go on any long-term vacation, because when you have your own business, you can’t just up and go when you feel like it. Now I guess we’ll have a little bit more free time to do that.”
Goodfellas also gained a reputation for generosity, because Steve Sanelli often used the eatery to promote community causes.
The owners set up a Christmas tree donation site to collect gifts for the Issaquah Food & Clothing Bank during the holiday season, and organized a relief effort after neighbors lost everything in a house fire just before Christmas 2008. Customers dropped off donations at the shop.
In South Cove, Steve Sanelli is also known for elaborate holiday displays featuring enough colored lights to make Clark Griswold blush.
The can-do spirit he brought to Goodfellas is certain to be important in the future, family members said.
“Steve, he’s a talker and he’s a salesperson and he’s got some good ideas,” Melinda Sanelli said. “He’ll find his way.”
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.