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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    Customers delighted as 95-year-old D’Elia’s bakery reopens in Norwich

    D’Elia’s Bakery & Grinder Shop, 272 Franklin St., Norwich, shown on Tuesday, May 7, 2024, reopened Monday more than 10 months after it closed while Anthony Heft, one of the family members who operates the business, recovered from an injury. (Claire Bessette/The Day)
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    Wendy and Anthony Heft, shown Tuesday, May 7, 2024, are the third generation of family members to run the downtown Norwich landmark, D’Elia’s Bakery & Grinder Shop. The shop reopened more than 10 months after it closed while Anthony Heft, one of the family members who operates the business, recovered from an injury. (Claire Bessette/The Day)
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    Customer Reggie Payton, 34, of Norwich, shown on Tuesday, May 7, 2024, was pleased that D’Elia’s Bakery & Grinder Shop, had reopened Monday. The shop had been closed for more than 10 months while Anthony Heft, one of the family members who operates the business, recovered from an injury. (Claire Bessette/The Day)
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    Norwich ― Anthony and Wendy Heft quietly turned on the open sign at D’Elia’s Bakery & Grinder Shop on Monday morning about two hours before posting on Facebook that the nearly century-old downtown Norwich landmark was reopened after being closed for more than10 months.

    That little neon sign was all Dave Maurice of Montville needed to see. He stopped his car in front of the shop at 272 Franklin St. and was the first customer through the door. He went back for more on Tuesday.

    “I’ve been coming here since I was 16,” Maurice, 63, said.

    D’Elia’s closed late last June after Anthony Heft, who runs the family-owned shop with his wife, Wendy, tore his Achilles tendon while playing with their son. Heft needed surgery and was laid up for months, unable to walk. The family was forced to close the shop and posted frequent messages on Facebook promising to return.

    But opening dates slipped by as the family dealt with mechanical issues in the shop and other setbacks.

    Wendy said when Monday’s opening came for real, she wanted a little time to get ready for the deluge. Then she posted on Facebook, “Come on down. We are finally open!”

    And they did. The line on Monday stretched out the door and down Franklin Street. Two customers brought flowers.

    “So much love!” Wendy Heft said. “The outpouring of support has been so amazing.”

    Justin DeRose said he really doesn’t use Facebook, but he checked it frequently just to find out when D’Elia’s would reopen. He comes at least every other week.

    Reggie Payton, 34, of Norwich saw the post on Facebook too.

    “I’ve been coming here since I was this high,” he said, holding his hand about 2 feet above the floor.

    He had eaten breakfast just a short time before stopping in on Tuesday late morning to say hello to Anthony and Wendy, and said he would be back shortly for his favorite honey turkey grinder.

    “And I need some bread,” he added.

    D’Elia’s bread is the shop’s signature item. Anthony’s father, Rich Heft, bakes the bread. Anthony estimated he made 35 to 40 dozen grinder rolls before opening Monday.

    D’Elia’s opened in 1929. Anthony and Wendy Heft are third-generation family members working at the shop. Their son, Dominic Heft, 16, a junior at Norwich Free Academy a few blocks away, recently started working at the shop, making it a four-generation family business.

    “My mother is from Philadelphia,” said Timothi Pearson, 31, of Norwich. “She says D’Elia’s makes the best sandwiches in town.”

    He said his mother did not yet know that D’Elia’s has reopened. He planned to surprise her with her favorite, an Italian grinder with spicy mustard and jalapeño peppers.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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