Many people remember the "Seinfeld" episode in which Jerry and the gang go to great lengths to enjoy tasty soups made by the "Soup Nazi," so named for the strict way he required customers to order.
Lucky Neapolitans — we can get delicious soups without such stringent rules. Larry's Lunch Box Delicatessen, which celebrated its 25th anniversary in December and opened a second location in August, is known for its soups — especially the gazpacho and the seafood bisque — as well as its overstuffed sandwiches.
In a town boasting a high volume of restaurant openings and closings, it's a testament to the owners that they've endured for so long.
"I thought I might run it for a while, sell it and move on to something else," confesses Larry Redding, who started the business in 1987 with his wife, Marci. "I never really thought my children would want to be involved."
But their children, Sean and Kimberly, couldn't help but spend time at their parents' restaurant six days a week and developed an enthusiasm for the business. Kimberly Redding fondly remembers a childhood carrying food to customers, clearing tables and doing dishes. By high school, she was helping prepare food.
Two years ago, the children bought out the parents and now manage the business.
They knew not to tinker with success. The menu at both locations is the same, offerings that Larry says he's hardly changed in 25 years.
If you go
LARRY'S LUNCH BOX
Original location: 2650 Airport-Pulling Road, 239-775-2500
New second location: 870 Neapolitan Way, 239-263-2713
Hours: Mondays-Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Fridays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Something else: Local delivery service and catering available.
"I've only added a few menu items over the years," he says, mentioning chicken sandwiches and Caesar salad.
Larry did not train formally as a chef. He graduated from the University of Michigan with a general studies degree and thoughts of becoming a teacher. He worked for restaurants, including the Real Seafood Company, and "fell in love" with the industry.
He later worked at Maude's, a former Ann Arbor restaurant, making 25 gallons of soup at a time. "That's how I got my bases and foundation" for his soup recipes, he says.
Larry and Marci visited family in Naples and noticed that the area did not have a good kosher deli. They moved here on Labor Day weekend in 1983 with the idea of opening one. His brother worked in the refrigeration business and learned that the 7-11 building across from the courthouse was being sold. Larry tracked down the owner and asked about opening up a deli.
It took more than a year — during which time Marci worked at the Dock and the former St. George and the Dragon, while he worked at restaurants now closed — and they signed a lease before construction on the new building was even started.
"I knew that across from courthouse complex would be the perfect place for a deli," Larry enthuses. "It's the heartbeat of Collier County."
Through the years, the legal community in the area has constituted a large portion of the deli's clients. Larry says one of his earliest customers was now retired Collier Circuit Judge Lawrence Martin, dating back to when he was with the Vega, Brown, Stanley, Martin & Zelman law firm. "I catered his New Year's Eve party a few days after I opened," he recalled.
Some seasonal residents come for lunch every day.
"They're like family," Larry says, adding that Marci — whom he calls "the hardest working woman I've ever met" — greets customers by name while running the front of the house.
What brings people back, he emphasizes, is consistency. He says he makes "simple, good food," but adds that the soups are a draw. On a recent day, the daily soup specials included pumpkin and parsnip bisque, split pea and creamy chicken. Best-selling sandwiches include the reuben, hot corned beef, pastrami and chicken salad. The humorous sandwich names — such as Louie's Lesson Learned and Tommy's New Job — are nods to family and friends from his college years.
Approximately 80 percent of everything the deli sells is made in-house, including the roast beef that Larry cooks. He buys produce every day from Publix and Oakes Farms, and for 20 years he has used a Fort Myers vendor who sells meats from New Jersey.
Larry does not use salt in any of his recipes, working instead to bring out "the true nature of the flavors" in the foods, he says.
Surviving 25 years in business took hard work and teamwork, he observes.
"Having a wife like mine who works so hard creates a special bond. Owning your own business, you might work more hours than other people, but you can do things with your family and make decisions together and the corporate world doesn't control you. You're more in charge of your life and can feel better about yourself."
It is now up to the next generation to secure another 25 years.
"It's the most rewarding thing of all, to have your children want to do that," Larry Redding says.
Kimberly says she and her brother are ready. It was Sean's idea to expand, and they have been welcomed into the neighborhood.
"We're already getting new customers who hadn't heard of us and others saying they're glad we moved to this side of town," she says. And, like the first location, the new spot is attracting some customers who stop by daily.
She would like to implement some new ideas — including ordering online and through mobile devices — but she says they "won't try to be something we're not. We're a small, efficient deli with great sandwiches and homemade soups. We have a menu that works, and that's what keeps the customers coming back."
If things go well, the family would like to open a third location in North Naples.
"My parents worked extremely hard to have this business for so long," she says. "My brother and I are going to do our best to keep it for the community."