AURORA – Hey Carm!”
You’ll hear that greeting often when you visit either Carmine Lonardo’s Meat Market and Italian Deli in Aurora or Lakewood. Sometimes more than one Carmine will answer.
There’s the original Carmine who still checks in on the business and yells at his sons.
There’s his son, Carmine, who has manages the shop in Aurora.
Finally, there’s his grandson Carmine who attends Regis High School and sometimes mans the register.
One way or another, all of the Lonardos including grandma Lois, brother Tony and sisters Louise and Maria manage the retail and wholesale businesses of the family.
It been that way since Carmine and Lois opened in Lakewood in 1978, the younger Carmine said as he sat down to talk at the Aurora location. Nearby are cannoli, shelves packed with Stella D’oro anisette toast and Centro canned tomatoes, cases full of steaks and the market’s Italian sausage, and fixings for their made-to-order sandwiches.
Six days a week he puts in orders, cuts meat and manages nine employees. “My employees tell me I’m lazy,” he said, smiling broadly. “My job is to talk to people. I try to keep them entertained.”
The result is loyal regulars who are treated like family. When an unfamiliar customer walks in the market, “I’ll say ‘First time?’ They’ll say ‘How did you know?’” Lonardo said.
“I may not know everybody by name but I know them by sight. I ask them how they’re doing because I want to know.”
It means, he said, that when an elderly customer asks if her groceries can be delivered, he drops off the food on his way home even though it’s in the opposite direction. “I would never charge to bring someone food,” he declared, as if it would be immoral.
Buying meat from a family butcher is a different from picking it up from a supermarket, Lonardo said.
“When you come to a place like this you get a personal guarantee.” Meat and subs may be for sale, but what’s being offered here is a relationship.
Carmine Lonardo’s only stocks beef from Piemontese cattle, a breed producing naturally lean, tender beef.
“There’s no hormones, no antibiotics ever,” Lonardo said. “With the steaks it’s almost like there’s olive oil in it.”
The porterhouses, ribeyes, and braciole are wrapped in traditional white butcher paper sealed with wet tape.
As a 14-year-old working at his father’s store “one of the first things I learned was how to cut up a chicken.” he said, and Carmine Lonardo has been cutting meat for 33 years. “I love it. Just cutting a beautiful steak for people and watching their expression when they see it.”
He has a talented apprentice who does most of the cutting now, and the meat arrives in a box, not as a side of beef.
For the holidays he expects to sell nearly 150 fresh chilled birds, and upwards of 200 pounds of Italian sausage and bread stuffing. His prime ribs are hung so they age five to six weeks before Christmas.
The elder Carmine grew up in Campobasso south of Rome, and emigrated to Denver when he was 24. He worked in a packing house for 24 years before he and his Denver-born wife opened the original Carmine Lonardo’s Meat Market. Carmine and Lois have been married 52 years and they still own both markets.
“My dad is only 5-feet, 3-inches but he’s tough,” the younger Carmine said. “He had a 4th grade education, couldn’t really read and write, raised a family and started a business.”
The younger Carmine attended Mesa State on a football scholarship and moved on to the University of Northern Colorado. “I wanted to be a sports broadcaster. Then I started to see that it was a real cutthroat business,” he said.
“I went to my dad and said ‘Hire me. Give me a job.’”
In 1993 the elder Lonardo decided to open a second store and picked the location on Smoky Hill Road. Why there? “My father said this was the place,” Lonardo said.
The expansion also had to do with an Italian-American family and its sometimes volatile relationships. “My dad was a partner with his brother in a business and they had a falling out. They haven’t spoken in 41 years. He didn’t want me and my brother to be like that,” he said.
Carmine’s brother Tony is in charge of the wholesale business and that’s mainly about the family’s famous mild and hot sausage. “My brother makes 10,000 pounds of sausage a week in 50-pound batches,” he said, including breakfast sausage, German, Polish and linguica sausage.
The Aurora Carmine Lonardo’s has gradually developed its own identity. The latest additions are pizza and gelato stations and the market bakes almost all of its desserts including limoncello mascarpone cake, sfogliatelle, cookies and his own creation: tiramisu cake.
“I teach a lot. I tell my staff what my dad told me: ‘Good product, good price, good service and you’ll sleep good every night.’”
Opening this market and buying a house in Aurora was “the best thing that ever happened,” he said. “I live down the street. I get to take my kids to school every day and see my family at night.” His son Carmine attends Regis Jesuit High School and Dominic goes to Falcon Creek Middle School.
“I tell my kids: Don’t go into the meat business, become a dentist, but you never know,” he said.
One of the staff interrupts again. “Hey Carm. How many garlic breads you want me to do?”
“Make six,” he said. “Nobody talks to me until I’m busy,” he said.
On the menu: Carmine Lonardo’s sandwich hit parade
Carmine Lonardo’s has earned a reputation in Aurora for its made-to-order sandwiches which are served on loaves from longtime Denver baker Michael Bortz and his City Bakery. Various toppings are available here but the staff will strongly try to dissuade you from using mayo instead of Italian dressing.
According to Carmine Lonardo the deli’s most popular sandwiches are:
Carmine’s Italian Combo: Capocollo, salami, pepperoni, ham and provolone
Mama Lonardo’s Meatball: Housemade meatballs and marinara
Lonardo’s Famous Italian Sausage: Housemade sausage and marinara
The Godfather II: Chicago Italian beef with hot giardiniera peppers, sausage and marinara
Dominic’s Old School Combo: Capocollo, salami, pepperoni, ham, mortadella and provolone
Carmine Lonardo’s Meat Market and Italian Deli
15380 E. Smoky Hill Road, Aurora; 303-699-4532
7585 W. Florida Ave., Lakewood; 303-985-3555