A deli way past its glory days

Over the years, I had heard the rumor that there was always a “fourth deli” to be added to the beloved triumvirate of the College Delly, Paul’s Deli and the Green Leafe. This mysterious place still exists–no, it was not in that abandoned lot next to Paul’s. Rather, it is Mama Mia’s, the odd looking place on Prince George Street that very few people I know ever venture to out of fear and the horrible feeling of awkwardness.

So I decided to take the plunge and actually get off campus—which I feel like I so rarely do, especially since I do not own a car. After a few morning meetings, I walked down Armistead Ave. and made my way over to Prince George Street.

According to their link on Campus Food.com, the Mama’s Mia’s pizzeria/restaurant/deli has been around since 1979. When one arrives there, it seems fairly clear that the chances that they have done any renovations since the building was set up in 1979 are slim to none. I had seen the building so many times before but never actually bothered to look at it for more than a few seconds. In Williamsburg, an architectural eyesore is a rarity, and this one is not something that attracts a terrible amount of attention in such a pleasant neighborhood.

Now although the assignment asks us to get involved an in touch with this uncomfortable place, I went over to the deli with no intention of walking in the front door: and in fact, I never did. It was not clear if the establishment was even open. It was early afternoon–so what better time for the business to be booming–but that certainly was not the case. There were a few trucks around in the front, and someone was just sitting in one of them, glaring at me. Needless to say, it was not a very inviting scene.

Mama Mia’s is now a place only for townies, and every student that has attempted to go there, from every story I have heard, has failed in feeling comfortable or welcome. I was no different.

Part of the reason it does not seem to be so inviting is its location away from the campus. Although it is still a short distance, it is not nearly the same as the other three delis. Before one even walks in, it is already an isolated place, meaning that it already loses the charm of the mini-downtown setting that we all enjoy with Scotland Street.

Once again, I found myself judging “place” to really mean “people.” I cannot seem to shake this link in my mind no matter how hard I try. Sure, the place is a bit run down, which is not something I am used to. But on the other hand, so is the College Delly, and Paul’s is no prize either. However, when I went by those delis on my walk back to campus, I found students working the bar, or eating and drinking as regular customers. That is something that Mama Mia’s did not have.

Besides my general rule of never eating in a restaurant in which no one else is sitting down—especially during a regular meal time, there was still something else lingering about Mama Mia’s that made me not want to go in. It is a hard feeling to really decipher, but the best that I could figure is related to people. What would the greeting be for me when I walked in the door? Would it be a warm welcome that I was a brave soul who dared to enter the establishment when it appeared no one else would? I doubted it.

A place is made most comfortable by the people that are in it, not by the decorations or the location, or any other physical factors. The place is a space that needs to be filled, and if it lacks people, there are not many people happy with being alone, no matter where they may be.


About

The Williamsburg Documentary Project (WDP) strives to collect and preserve the rich past of Williamsburg, Virginia. By conducting oral history interviews, building physical and digital archives, and creating online exhibits, the WDP interprets Williamsburg’s recent past. The WDP works towards developing a better understanding of Williamsburg by bringing together individuals, local groups, Colonial Williamsburg, and the College of William & Mary.

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