Big Al’s Deli has been a mainstay on Marco Island since it was opened by well-known island restaurateur Al Landers almost 25 years ago. He later moved it from its original home at the Town Center Plaza, to its location today at 715 Bald Eagle Drive, across the street from the Progressive Auto Service Center.
Their sandwiches and soups quickly became legendary and nothing would change once Tom and Linda Hanson purchased it from Landers 20 years ago. They continued to build upon Lander’s success while providing island clientele with the quality offerings that were a standard of Big Al’s Deli for so many years.
When Landers owned the deli, his niece Candice Donavan soon found her way down to the island to be close to her parents. They moved here from Worcester, Massachusetts to escape the icy winters of New England. Candice’s mom was Al Lander’s sister and after a short stint working for a local t-shirt vendor, Candice would soon see herself working at the deli and beginning a journey that she would have never imagined. Eventually, she met her future husband, Tobey Simmons, at Al’s. When Candice had a son, she took almost 4 years off from her job at Big Al’s before returning to the deli.
Jackie Romanowicz and her parents were frequent vacationers to Marco Island, so she was no stranger to the benefits of all Southwest Florida had to offer. Romanowicz had worked at a deli in New Jersey while growing up. So, when she was picked up at the airport by a friend 10 years ago and breezed into town, it was fate that their lunch stop had a Help Wanted sign hanging in the window at Big Al’s, and the rest was history.
The dynamic duo of Romanowicz and Simmons became an inseparable team during the 10 years they worked together. The chemistry between them is evident to all who walked through the door of the deli.
They’re even a comedic duo who can light up the room immediately, sometimes at the expense of the clientele who love the banter between the two. Simmons is the initial contact you’ll have at the deli, as she is the order taker and cashier, while Romanowicz ensures the orders stay straight and are produced without delay for the hungry customers, who not only come for the great food, but also the friendly atmosphere at the deli.
After owning Big Al’s for over 20 years, the Hansons eventually turned over the keys to the girls in early 2020. “These two are going to do a great job, they already have,” Tom Hanson stated.
“This is a tough business and the girls were more than employees, they were like family and we can only wish them many years of great success,” added Linda Hanson.
“The two of them have what it takes to be one of the great success stories on the island,” said Al Landers, the man who the deli is named for. He should know a little something about success, as Landers has opened no less than 13 restaurants on the island over the years for himself or others.
The deli is busy year-round, as it is a favorite of permanent residents, businesses and visitors alike, many of which find Candice welcoming them out by name as soon as they walk through the door. The top of the counter behind the register is often lined with telephone take-out orders for businesses and individuals themselves.
“We just want to have people to have a smile on their faces when they come through the door, knowing they’re looking forward to coming here and again when they leave. That way we know we haven’t disappointed them,” remarked Candice.
Romanowicz has brought another specialty from her Northeast area of the country by offering a Taylor Ham breakfast sandwich. “This is a favorite from the New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania area of the country. Try it as a sub or a wrap with a cup of coffee in the morning. We open at 9 AM for those looking to start the day off right,” said Romanowicz. The morning sandwich is something new for Big Al’s and it appears to be catching on.
Whether its bowl of soup, a wonderful salad, a delicious sandwich, wrap, a grinder/sub of their choice or even a “bowl of balls,” no one seems to be disappointed. They also offer customized offerings for luncheon spreads or business meetings and special gatherings at your homes.
The team of Romanowicz and Simmons is one to watch. Dynamic, bold and funny they are an example of what makes Marco so special.