Lorie Andrews and her daughter-in-law, Challice Perdomo, arrive at 7 a.m. to begin slicing the fresh meats, cheeses, veggies, prepping the tuna salad and preparing the ingredients for the onslaught of hungry customers.
At 9 a.m., people are already walking through the door for their first meal of the day: a sandwich from Mousie’s Deli.
Andrews said that it all started with an aquarium and fish store, Tuffy’s Aquarium, over 40 years ago. Andrews’s parents, Raymond Tillinghast and Challice Sue, would drive to New York to buy exotic fish to supply their store, and would frequent New York delis while there. After taking a liking to the New York style, they decided to bring those flavors back to their own hometown of Warwick.
Andrews recalled the original deli before her parents’ ownership. First it was Schroder’s, then Miller’s, then Mueller’s and, finally in 1978, Tillinghast and Sue, along with their business partner Gary Moszkowicz (whose name Andrews was unsure of how to spell), officially bought the small Deli and named it Mousie’s. The name came from their partner Gary’s nickname, which people used frequently due to, fittingly enough, the difficulty pronouncing his real name.
Tillinghast and Sue became sole owners by 1980.
Andrews said her parents experimented with ingredients and new sandwich concoctions that eventually developed into the menu still used today.
With originals such as the #1, “Tilly,” named after her father, consisting of roast beef, onion, lettuce, and Mousie’s Hot Sauce on an onion roll or the #10, “Magee Hickey,” named after the famous reporter, which is a concoction of hot corned beef, hot pastrami, melted Swiss, coleslaw and Russian dressing, the sandwiches only get more complex from there. Each one has it’s own unique quirk or story behind its origin.
Their most popular by far is the #23, “Thanksgiving.” “We have people come in the day after Thanksgiving for it because they didn’t have any leftovers,” said Andrews.
Even celebrities like James Woods, whose brother had owned Aable Jewelers right next door, had stopped in for a bite. Andrews recalled: “He wanted eggs in his sandwich and we didn’t carry them at the time, so we started buying eggs for the deli.” Hence the creation of the #17, “James Woods,” which consists of cold turkey, onions, sliced egg and Russian dressing. Andrews said Woods still occasionally stops by to this day.
Lorie Andrews first started working in the deli for her parents as a kid and, by 2003, took over as owner when her father eventually retired. She has continued the same traditions that gave the deli its charm, including all fresh produce and a steamer that heats the meat and melted cheeses together.
“No other place has that. It’s what makes the sandwiches,” said Perdomo.
Andrews and Perdomo elaborated on their own memories and history in the deli.
“We took our first steps here,” Perdomo said. “We grew up here…It’s like home to me… This is a huge part of my life. She’s [Andrews] not just my mother but my best friend.” Andrews added that they’ve hosted many birthdays and even baby showers in the past.
Geri Davis, another woman that works at the deli part-time, volunteers because she simply loves spending time there.
“I think of her as a nana,” said Perdomo.
There is a noticeably strong family dynamic between the three of them, and the deli itself resonates this dynamic. Laden with old tools, Challice Sue’s old horse saddle, street signs, a teapot collection, assorted knickknacks and a 1990s map of Warwick with Mousie’s drawn in, the atmosphere is unique in and of itself.
Andrews explained the decorations came from when her and her late husband would buy boxes of assorted items from auctions, where they started to build up at her home before she had the idea to decorate the deli.
The rustic deli environment doesn’t stop there. The glass display on the counter reveals all of their products available for wholesale, as well as 12 different types of chips clipped in colorful rows at the register and a chalkboard with sandwiches written in.
With the option of fountain soda with free refills if you stay, or an array of drinks in the fridge, the options are extensive. Every sandwich comes with a freshly sliced semi-sour garlic pickle, toothpicks to keep the sandwich together, and a fork to eat what fell out onto the plate. For people on the go, they will wrap it all into a tidy white bag to conveniently unfold later.
Despite their connection and shared love for the deli, Andrews and Perdomo still retain their friendly competitions with each other. “My mom makes sandwiches 10 times faster, but mine are prettier,” said Perdomo.
They banter back and forth: “In my opinion, if you’re going to get pastrami, get the real thing,” said Andrews. Perdomo retorts: “But I really like the turkey pastrami though.”
Andrews and Perdomo adore their regulars. “We have some of the most faithful customers,” said Andrews. “I’m usually making their sandwiches before they come in the door.”
Mousie’s also does catering. “A lot of our catering for big orders comes from people that recommend us,” said Andrews. She recalled staying up until 2 a.m. the night before Christmas Eve, making finger sandwiches for company Christmas parties.
“We’ve even had doctors ask pharmaceutical reps for a sandwich from us before they’d hear them out,” said Andrews.
The resonance with customers speaks for itself.
“When I was out sick, we had customers leaving us messages wishing us well,” said Andrews. “It feels like every corner we turn, someone is saying ‘I’ll have my Thanksgiving on pumpernickel!’”
They’ve even had people yell “Mousie’s!” at them when visiting other states. One father and son from New Hampshire even stop in twice a week.
Andrews feels strongly about keeping the deli open. She explained how she used to go bowling every Tuesday at Meadowbrook Lanes until, one day, she went down and pulled her hamstring. Andrews said that because she did not want to close the store, she duct-taped her leg and kept working anyways.
After 40 years, they don’t plan on closing anytime soon. Perdomo intends on taking over when Andrews retires, and hopes to keep the same traditions alive. They attribute their continued success to all of their regulars and newcomers alike.
“Thank you to all of our loyal customers,” said Andrews. “Hoping for another 40 years.”
Mousie’s Deli is located at 1619 Warwick Ave., in Warwick.
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