Have you ever had a neighbor receive one of those “best of” awards – like best lawyer or citizen of the year? When someone in the neighborhood does good and gets recognized, we all feel a bit prouder and stand a little taller.
Well, as a resident of Birmingham’s Southside for the past 30 years, that’s how I feel about Five Point South’s Ranelli’s Deli and Cafe being named the best deli in Alabama by The Food Network, this week.
This honor is genuinely well deserved.
Upon receiving the news, I ran down to Ranelli’s right before they closed, to get Rick and Sarah Ranelli’s reaction to such a prestigious honor.
It’s about family
When I greeted Rick and Sarah, 10 minutes before they were to close for the day, they were excited to tell me the Ranelli’s story.
It is a story about a remarkable family.
Off the bat, Rick quickly reminded me that the deli turns 49 years old in March and that he had been working there since he was 12.
If you have never been to Ranelli’s, it is like a museum dedicated to music, Birmingham and friends. There are 45rpm single records hanging from the ceilings, an old City Stages sign, a life size Elvis cardboard cutout and photos of friends, customers and neighbors spanning decades, decorating the walls.
It all began in 1971
“My mother and father opened Ranelli’s in 1971,” Rick began.
“We basically started by having a booth at the international fair when they celebrated Italy. My father was a wholesale food distributor that served the Italian grocery stores. At the booth my mom served up some of her recipes. Everyone asked – Where is your restaurant?”
She told them, she didn’t have a restaurant. It was then, my dad had a little light pop up (Rick gestured over his head) – maybe we should open up a restaurant? They passed by here (the current restaurant) one day, saw a for rent sign, and the rest is history.”
The first menu had 5-6 sandwiches on it.There were also Italian groceries, sliced meats and cheeses and olives for sale.
“We struggled for the first couple of years, but then the neighborhood caught on. Next thing you know 49 years later we are still sitting here,” Rick said with a grin. “We’ve had opportunities to leave, but something just keeps us sitting here.”
Both Rick and Sarah, who are the only employees, said the place is less about the work today.
“It’s a testament to my parents, our heritage, the way we were brought up and how to do things right.”
Food Network News
Sarah described how they learned about the honor the Food Network bestowed upon their deli.
“They ( Food Network) just called us out of the blue. They said you had overwhelming support.”
It has been a memorable month for Ranelli’s.
Sarah then informed me that just a few weeks ago a differnt national foodie digital publication called Cheapism had named their Richman Po-Boy one of the best subs, grinders and hoagies across America.
Unsurprisingly, in 2012, the Richman, was named one of the “100 Dishes To Eat in Alabama Before You Die” by Alabama Tourism Department.
“It’s such an honor,” she humbly added.
Much like the 70s
Along with award winning food, local residents simply love the restaurant’s atmosphere and consistency.
Rick explained, “We are a stickler for details. We want it to be like it was back then. Quality food, reasonable price. That was my dad’s mantra. Do not skimp on quality.”
A comfortable family friendly place. No one wants Ranelli’s to change. Even when Rick tried putting up a digital sign with the menu items, his customers said… “please don’t do that.”
So, Rick found the the original guy, a friend of his, who made the first board. Even though his friend is retired, he made him a new menu board, and drew it all by hand.
Ranelli’s is a special place with many traditions that include all you can eat spaghetti on Tuesday and lasagna on Thursday.
A musical family, the first Friday of every month after 6:00, the restaurant is closed, but Rick, his brothers, sisters and friends gather together to play blues on the restaurant’s small stage.
You can imagine the spirit of Rick’s father, Sam Ranelli, who was inducted in the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame playing along with everyone.
I think you can see why everyone around Five Points South neighborhood and the Southside community are so proud. As a neighbor, I sure am. Here is a link to the Food Network story:
On behalf of your Birmingham neighbors, congrats Ranelli’s and thank you!