Walking into Gonella’s foods feels like going back in time. This Southwest Detroit Italian market and sub shop has been around for 75 years and is still going strong. It’s tucked into an off-the-beaten-path enclave of the city, at the intersection of Oakwood and Powell near the Marathon Oil Refinery and the Ford River Rouge Complex.
From the outside, Gonella’s is a modest brick Detroit-style building in the grassy urban countryside type of neighborhood you can find in so many places around the city. On the inside, you’ll find shelves of neatly stacked Italian breads, canned goods, desserts, cooking ingredients, an olive bar, and wine. Behind the large deli counter filled with Italian meats and cheese, there is a sign which details the pricing for the Gonella’s Famous Italian Subs. They are priced by the layer, starting at 6 and they go up to 18.
“On a good day we sell between 800 and 1000 subs,” said the owner Peter Hanni, who says that business had slowed down a bit because of the construction on the Fort Street Bridge over the Rouge, which many customers have to navigate around to get there.
I chose an 8 layer sub (6 layers of meat and 2 layers of cheese) for $5.50 and it was put together with swift precision. When I bit into the sub I realized that it’s not famous for its extravagance, it’s famous for the high quality ingredients and the satisfaction of the eating experience. The bread is fresh and crispy, the Italian deli meats and provolone are harmoniously flavorful, and a little lettuce and tomato give it just the right amount of moisture and crunch. The sub sauce they put on it is all that you need, though you can add pretty much anything you want to your sub to make it your own.
Jesse Scarber Sr.
Jesse Scarber Sr. has been coming to Gonella’s for over 35 years. While his favorite sandwich is the smoked turkey on a hard roll with oregano, onions and the special sauce, he admitted that he’s never been let down by any of the sandwiches.
Scarber says that what keeps him coming back is the fact that “the food is great, the service is excellent, and the people are very kind.” Other customers in line behind him with their subs nodded in agreement.
As we walked out, Hanni said “After you try that sub, you’ll be coming back, I guarantee it.” He was right.
(More pictures below.)
Behind the counter.
Party Sub Bread
Another Sub Ready to Roll
Ed. Note: You can find Gonella’s at 295 Oakwood Boulevard in Detroit. Here’s their website.
Photos by Nick Hagen.